Personality: Diane E. Woodruff

Spotlight on board chair of nonprofit City Singers Youth Choirs

1/26/2018, 12:13 p.m.
Music is the great equalizer and it touches the whole child.

Music is the great equalizer and it touches the whole child. This is the belief and driving force for Diane Woodruff, chair of the board of directors of City Singers Youth Choirs.

City Singers is an after-school vocal music program for second- through 12th-graders from across the area. Started by Dr. David McCormick in 1995 under the umbrella of an outreach program, Neighborhood School for the Arts began at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in North Side.

In 2007, the Neighborhood School for the Arts was slated to close, but parents were convinced the “the musical, cultural and personal development benefits to their children could not be duplicated elsewhere,” Ms. Woodruff says. The parents resolved to continue City Singers, which became a nonprofit organization.

Today, City Singers has about 50 young singers in two choirs — one for students in grades second through fifth, and the other for youngsters in grades sixth though 12th.

“Both choirs sing in two to three parts, practice good singing techniques and learn music theory,” Ms. Woodruff says. While they are “committed to excellence, they love what they do and have fun doing it,” she says.

“They sound great,” Ms. Woodruff says, adding that participants learn “classical, traditional and modern compositions from around the world” during weekly hour and a half rehearsals.

Participants pay tuition, she explains, which helps to cover the cost of music, the choir directors and materials used. Scholarships are offered based on what a family can afford, Ms. Woodruff says. The board helps to raise money to support the organization and its programs.

“City Singers Youth Choirs has great directors who are innovative and have a great presence with the singers,” she says.

The result: The choirs “bring joy to the community” in performances around the area, Ms. Woodruff says. On Saturday, Feb. 10, the City Singers Youth Choirs will perform at Family Day at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design on Monument Avenue, and with the Richmond Choral Society in “Nature and Song” on March 18 at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

The Cleveland, Ohio, native got involved with the nonprofit’s board two years ago when a friend who knew her interest and background asked her to join.

Throughout a long career, Ms. Woodruff taught music in elementary schools in Illinois and Chesterfield County until her retirement in 2014 from Bensley Elementary School.

“I sang in school choirs through high school,” Ms. Woodruff said of her own upbringing in Illinois. She holds an education degree in music from Northern Illinois University and currently serves as music director at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond.

“I love teaching music because all children can be successful,” she says. “Music teaches the whole child. It’s kinesthetic. It’s oral. It’s visual. It’s literature. Children work together as a team and have a sense of rhythm that beats inside of them.”

Meet music advocate, volunteer and this week’s Personality, Diane Woodruff:

Occupation: Retired elementary school music teacher and music director at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond.

Top volunteer position: Chair of the board of directors, City Singers Youth Choirs.

Duties of position: My job is to work with other board members to ensure that City Singers Youth Choirs have the resources they need to thrive.

Date and place of birth: Nov. 8 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Current residence: Henrico County.

Education: Bachelor’s in education (music), Northern Illinois University.

Family: Husband, Arnold Woodruff, and two sons, Nathan and Russell.

Why I am excited about this organization: There’s nothing better than hearing a well-prepared, wonderful-sounding group of young singers!

Most outstanding accomplishment of City Singers: Aside from having consistently great artistry, the choir has had many highlights since its founding (i.e., the 20th anniversary concert with a specially commissioned piece). Perhaps its best accomplishment is the relationships it has built with local schools and arts organizations — Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Richmond Symphony Orchestra (“Let It Snow” concert), Richmond Choral Society, One Voice Chorus, Collegiate School, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School Choir, the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, toured in D.C., Williamsburg, many concerts in nursing homes and Richmond festivals.

Profile of choir members: Choir members come from every part of the Greater Richmond area and from public, private and home schools. They love to sing and gain confidence as their ability grows. They like the variety of musical styles they sing and learning different techniques. They like partnering with other groups to bring their music to the community. They love the joy of singing together!

How to join choir: For young singers, their level of interest in singing and music experience is assessed, while sixth- through 12th-graders participate in non-competitive, low-stress auditions. Find info at www.citysingerschoir.org/join

Number of choir members: There are currently 50 singers in the two choirs.

Favorite composer: Too many great ones to name just one.

Favorite piece of music: Depends on the mood I’m in. I like a wide range of music and not a steady diet of any one.

Favorite singers: Bette Midler and Renée Fleming.

How I start the day: Grateful for another opportunity to get it right!

A perfect day for me is: A mix of connecting with family and friends, being useful in some way, enjoying all that Richmond has to offer (great entertainment and food) and holding my new granddaughter.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Play golf.

A quote that I am most inspired by: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer

What I’m reading now: “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: No words of wisdom; they just led by example.

Next goal: Continue to stay engaged in the community.