February 8, 2008

Before Cora Hughes became the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for fine arts in Greenup County, she taught music for 28 years. She said it was only natural for her to carry her love of music into her new role.

“I had a vision to start a children’s chorus in the area,” said Hughes, who founded the Greenup Arts Children’s Chorus in October. According to her, the audition-only group of 32 students from 14 area schools has “just taken off.”

“We started out just in the county and then word spread. We have children from Greenup, Boyd and one girl even comes from Wheelersburg, Ohio who travels an hour each way to join us.”

Hughes worked with some of her contacts to get music commissioned for the chorus so the children would have a sense of pride in singing music written “just for them.” She said the chorus is the cream-of-the-crop and has a beautiful sound. Fourth-grader Savannah Brown of McKell Elementary said the original music is one of her favorite parts of the chorus.

“I’ve always been involved in singing, for as long as I’ve lived,” she said. “What I like about the music is it’s just for us, and it really has soul. Everyone in this choir has become my best friends … it’s really been fun to work with other people, and I just love it.”

Because singers must commit to weekly rehearsals, parent involvement is a must.

“We have a wonderful group of parents, and for an organization like this, you have to have that,” Hughes said. “They’re here; they’re supportive, and they’ve even helped us get sponsors.”

Recently, the Greenup area’s state Rep. Tanya Pullin invited the chorus to travel to Frankfort and sing at the Kentucky State Capitol to open an afternoon session of the Kentucky House of Representatives. The children toured the Capitol building, visited with Pullin and Greenup area state Sen. Charlie Borders and sang several songs in the rotunda before moving to the House Floor to sing “Happiness to You,” commissioned by Johnie Dean, assistant director of the Lexington Singers.

“It is especially a big deal to bring them here to the Capitol, because (in Greenup County) we are about a three-hour drive from the capital, and many of these students don’t get to come maybe once or twice in their whole lives to the capital,” Pullin said. “So we’re honored that they can come here, sing in our Capitol, be recognized and appreciate the heritage we have here.”

Songs in the rotunda also included “Kentucky is My Land,” a Jesse Stuart poem set to music by Jay Flippin, 2006 Kentucky Artist of the Year.

Hughes co-directs the chorus with Anne Stephens, arts director at the Raceland-Worthington High School Cultural Arts Center. Hughes said the group is really bonding, and that the experience is quite exciting for them because “they come from all different areas of music, and all of a sudden they are doing songs they have never done before.”

After the Capitol singing experience, the group traveled to Lexington to perform at the East Regional Extension Conference. Hughes said fine arts are a natural fit for Cooperative Extension.

“Extension is supposed to be for all the people,” she said. “Fine arts should be a part of that to showcase all the arts, not just the performing arts.”

Looking toward the near future of arts in Greenup County, Hughes has been working with Flippin and James W. Rodgers, former UK theatre chair, to script a “Memory Play” with original music from Jesse Stuart’s book, “A Penny’s Worth of Character.” The script has been written, and Flippin is working on the music. Auditions will be held in the spring, and the play will be performed during the 2008 Jesse Stuart Week at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park.

Hughes also is working with the KYOVA Mall (meaning Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia) in Cannonsburg, Ky. to establish an Artisans Center. The mall is donating more than 6,000 square feet to support the work of local artisans.