By Stephanie Thompson

Sweetwater Children's Choir program ends


August 22, 2019

After 18 years, the Sweetwater County Board of Cooperative Educational Services Children’s Honor Choir program has come to an end.

SBOCES Children’s Honor Choir founder and conductor Sarah Wessel said over the years, the choir has been conducted by herself, Helen Berrett, Robin Neal, and presently, Wendy Compton. 

According to a press release, the choir officially was founded in 2001 by Wessel as a host choir for the Wyoming American Choral Director’s Association All-State Children’s Honor Choir performance at the former East Junior High School.

The mission of the Children’s Honor Choir has always been to “To promote excellence in choral rehearsal and performance for children in Sweetwater County; to provide group development in vocal performance; and to sponsor students to perform in State,  National and Regional Honor Choirs.”

“I am sad that I must retire,” Wessel said. “The singers need to have the best singing modeling to hear and imitate. In the last few years, I have been disappointed in my own singing quality at the treble level. My vocal range has diminished. High notes are missing.”

Even though the program is done for now, Wessel is hopeful that someone will take it over or create something else to fill the need.

“A new program could begin for singers of this community in addition to what is offered in public and private schools,” she said. “I would like it to be modeled after the festival and national choirs and I am in hopes there is someone out there qualified to begin such a program.” 

The program’s evolution

Wessel has been a music educator since 1976.

“I’ve always been involved in the child’s singing voice,” she said.

Wessel taught at Walnut Elementary School and White Mountain Junior High in Rock Springs, as well as in Superior.

“At Walnut school, I had a children’s choir, ‘Treble Makers,’ and directed several musicals at Walnut school,” she said.

After six years of teaching music, she took a sabbatical leave to go to Oakland, Calif., and obtain her master’s degree in music education. While in this program, she attended a National Organization of American Kodaly Educators Conference in Seattle. At the conference, singers from all over the country in grades fourth through eighth performed.

“Having heard the sound of a National Honor Choir, I knew that I would not attend another annual conference without also taking students and their parents to participate in this phenomenal choral performance,” Wessel said.

In 1988, she started taking Rock Springs students to the conferences. At this time, she was the co-founder of Soundwave and Sweetwater County’s All Boys Choir.

When she transferred to the junior high school, she selected singers from the junior high and the Sweetwater Children’s Honor Choir.

“In 2000, I attended the Wyoming ACDA annual All-State Children’s Honor Choir event and discovered another opportunity to select children to sing in a state venue,” she said. “In order to sponsor this state-wide event, the host director and his/her host choir participated in the All-State Choir, and I renewed efforts to build a Sweetwater County Children’s Honor Choir.”

Sweetwater BOCES, directed then by Dave Kathka, agreed to sponsor the group. With the help of Sweetwater BOCES, it hosted the Wyoming ACDA All-State Choir in Rock Springs at least three times over the years.

As the 2018-2019 season came to an end, the singers of the SBOCES Children’s Honor Choir once again traveled to Salt Lake City to perform in the Trills and Thrills Music Festival at Clayton Junior High, and celebrated their two superior ratings at the Lagoon Theme Park. While competing in SLC, the choir has earned excellent and superior ratings.

Children throughout Sweetwater County auditioned for the SBOCES Children’s Honor Choir, she said. As many as 70 singers have been in the choir at one time. 

Wessel said she will miss auditions, rehearsals and the reactions parents make when they hear their children sing. 

Certified conductors interested in developing a new youth program in the performing arts, are welcome to submit resumes to Dr. Bernadine Craft at the Sweetwater BOCES office located at Western Wyoming Community College.


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