We’re revising the new 2019-20 handbook right now and will get it posted by June 1st!


I. Welcome

II. About the Bija Children's Choir Season

III. Annual Performances

IV. About our Nonprofit Status & Fundraisers

V. Rhythmics: Movement-based Music Education

VI. Description of Choir Levels, Entry & Advancement

VII. Community Connections


Bija Choir Indian Storyconcert “Five Men In A Cart”, Sebastopol Center for the Arts 2015

Bija Choir Indian Storyconcert “Five Men In A Cart”, Sebastopol Center for the Arts 2015

Dear Parents,

WELCOME to the Bija Children's Choir, where we are deeply dedicated to educating and inspiring your young person who loves to sing, as well as enriching the Sebastopol area community through our quality multicultural performances.

Bija is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning creative seed, which represents the Bija Choir's mission of sowing and nurturing seeds of musical skill and creativity among our community's youth. Creating in the arts is what defines us as human, and the music skills that students learn in choir classes are life skills, as well. They learn how to listen, how to use their voices with confidence, how to work in harmony with others, among many other things.

Just as it is with any seed, the growing conditions are essential, and this is where you, the parents, play a crucial role in your child's success. Although it is very helpful for parents to have musical skills to share at home (such as being able to sing in harmony, play an instrument, read music, etc), it is not at all necessary in order for children to develop choir skills of their own. What IS important is that you support your child's class learning by bringing them regularly to class on time, playing the provided song references for them to study at home, and by participating in choir productions and fundraisers that are held throughout the season.

The following pages describe in detail about how our program works, expectations around concerts and fundraisers throughout the season, descriptions and goals of each choir level, and FAQ's. If there are any further questions please feel free to email anytime at bijachildrenschoir@gmail.com. Thank you for investing your family's time and energy into our program this season. Singing is a gift that lasts a lifetime!

Truly, Maria Ana Bija Creative Director

Maria Harvest 2015.JPG


There is an annual rhythm to the Bija Choir season, beginning in mid-September when new students enter choir groups leveled by age and ability, and ending in mid-May. The official season ends in late March, and students perform several times throughout the season as described in the next section. After the official season ends in late March, an additional short session / exploratory class is offered for the spring.

Bija Preparatory Choir performing at the CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest Concert, June 2017

Bija Preparatory Choir performing at the CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest Concert, June 2017

Beginner level students (entering Preparatory Choir) have the option to register for the 12-week fall session before committing to the rest of the season until June.  The opportunity to continue participating for the rest of the season is guaranteed for fall session students, while mid-season entry (in January) is open to new students depending upon available openings.

Bija Concert Choir at CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest Concert June 2017

Bija Concert Choir at CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest Concert June 2017

All students in the auditioned Concert & Treble Choirs commit to both the fall and winter season. The musical and social dynamic cultivated over a full season commitment allows a group of singers to better develop their ensemble sound and skills, as well as take on special music projects that extend over months.


All Bija Choir performers wear a uniform concert costume. While there may be some variation of themed accessories, such as a neck scarf or a hair ornament, the basic costume is a solid white short-sleeve top, a vest (color according to choir class), and a white smock for girls / pants for boys, along with dark school or dress shoes and white socks. Tops, vests and smocks are ordered from the Bija Choir, while pants, socks and shoes are obtained separately. Accessories are complimentary.

Bija Treble Choir, CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest 2017

Bija Treble Choir, CYO Camp Lodge, Summerfest 2017


New Preparatory Choir students may try the first class of a session for free as long as there are openings on the roster, and that reservation requests are made in advance. For Concert and Treble Choirs, a brief audition is required before trying a free class the first day of the season.

There is also a week of Community Holiday Classes in December where Bija Choir students invite friends/siblings to attend, bring an item for the food/clothing drive, and learn songs & choir games with us. Auditions are not needed at any level for these spirited open classes.



All Bija Choir students perform for themed events throughout the season, the first one being the Fall Session Benefit Concert, held on a Sunday in early December. All Bija Choir groups perform and are joined by special local guest artists, celebrating a specific musical genre or region.

Harvest Benefit Concert, Sebastopol Community Church 2017

Harvest Benefit Concert, Sebastopol Community Church 2017

Also the Bija Choir is traditionally invited to perform a handful of songs at a holiday event, such as the Sebastopol Tree-Lighting Ceremony (held on the first Thursday in December at 5pm), which is always a fun event filled with holiday cheer.

Sebastopol Tree Lighting Ceremony, many years ago!

Sebastopol Tree Lighting Ceremony, many years ago!

The other main performance of the season happens in March. The Concert & Treble Choirs perform in the annual Bija Cultural Storyconcert, which is a unique choral performance woven into a spoken folk tale, highlighting a selected world cultural tradition.

Bija Norwegian Storyconcert, Sebastopol Center for the Arts March 2018

Bija Norwegian Storyconcert, Sebastopol Center for the Arts March 2018

Special guests include a storyteller, musicians and dancers from the local and Bay Area, are also incorporated in the Bija Story Concerts, illuminating the rich cultural resources that exist in Sonoma County's own backyard.

Storytelling is an important art form for teaching lessons and reinforcing morals, and when threaded together with traditional choral and dance elements, make the Bija Cultural Story Concerts a rich, multicultural performance event for the community each year.

Georgia Churchill, Storyteller in The Empty Pot, 2nd Annual Bija Storyconcert 2009

Georgia Churchill, Storyteller in The Empty Pot, 2nd Annual Bija Storyconcert 2009

Leading up to this concert, we try to offer workshops in dance or fine arts that are related to the concert theme, and there is often a choir-wide fundraiser to help pay for costs. The Story Concert is the one ticketed event of the year, since the production costs (for the hall, sound/lighting, guest artists, publicity, etc) run high.

The Preparatory Choir students also participate in the March Storyconcert Festival by performing songs on the floor stage area before the main Storyconcert event. This is a great way for students to practice performing for an audience on a more informal level, and still take part in the unique annual Bija Choir Storyconcert event.


There's a popular myth claiming that nonprofits are not allowed to make any profit at all. If this was the case, nonprofit businesses could not exist! While it's true that nonprofits have an unpaid Board of Directors, they do have paid employees/contractors, and in fact the organization itself is allowed to make quite a lot of money. However this money must come from a broad community support base (ie lots of small donations from the general public versus a few major private or corporate sponsors), and employees receive low to modest wages rather than lofty stipends as in the private sector. The primary focus of the 501c3 nonprofit is to serve the community-- which in our case is through youth choral education and cultural performances-- rather than on financial profit.

That being said, all businesses including nonprofits must have a healthy flow of revenue in order to thrive. The Bija Children's Choir maintains healthy revenue by holding fundraisers from time to time, including a silent auction, a prayer flag fundraiser, or a pie sale & raffle. All Bija Choir families are expected to participate on some level, whether to help bake an item, work at a table, help set up/ clean up at an event, find business sponsors or auction items, or perform other tasks. Participation in fundraisers is intended to be fun and social, and not at all meant to break the family bank.


One of the unique aspects of the Bija Choir program is that the music theory learning at all levels is based on the movement-based methods of Dalcroze Eurhythmics, otherwise referred to as “Rhythmics”, not to be confused with Eurhythmy of Steiner's Waldorf education. Eurhythmy is an interpretive and somewhat-spiritual art form, whereas Rhythmics is a method of music education created by Swiss Professor Emile Jaques Dalcroze at the turn of the 1900's. Dalcroze found that a strong rhythmic sense is one of the primary factors underlying musicality, and the key to developing a strong sense of rhythm is movement. Both Kodaly and Orff methods grew out of the Dalcroze pedagogy, with Kodaly focusing on the Solfege singing/ear training aspects of the Dalcroze approach through using visual hand symbols, and Orff focusing on the compositional aspects using xylophones.

Musical instruments do not play themselves, however. Bodies play them; hearts & minds play them. Rhythmics teaches the body as “the first instrument,” and builds a vocabulary of listening and movement experiences (both habitual, such as walking, jogging, skipping, to more creative uses of time, space, and energy) to draw upon for musical literacy and performance skill.

For a most primary example, beginner students are asked to march to the beat (of music played skillfully by the teacher), and then are asked to add hand claps with the marching, to then using only hands, maybe at times with a partner, to vocalizing on “ta” and gesturing in the air... The next step is for the beat to become visual on the chalkboard, where a student is asked to make percussive beat marks as they march alongside the chalkboard, which the teacher then turns into standard notation of musical quarter notes. Over time and practice of this cyclical process, ranging from the simplest to the most complex of rhythmic motifs or musical expressions, when the student reads the notation, the movement connection has been logged into the body, and the rhythms are played or sung with steady pulse, whole-body vitality-- one of the defining elements of being “musical.”

All aspects of music can be taught through Rhythmics movement activities. Meter, accent, phrase, dynamics, articulation, harmony, texture, mode, character, syncopation, polyrhythm, form, and so on. More refined levels of expression require more refined movement abilities, so Rhythmics also develops a student's fine movement skills and spatial awareness, muscle control and balance. To move gracefully and intentionally, to have command of one's body, also builds self-confidence as an important element of performance.

Rhythmics also recognizes that music-making requires social awareness and skills, such as leading, following, adapting, listening, working in groups of different sizes. This is all part of the teaching agenda in class, where students are invited to create and contribute ideas, or other times listen, watch and follow, or adapt to changes in the music, or work in partners or trios or larger groups.


Just as with developing any skill -- such as playing soccer or dancing ballet or painting-- there are specific techniques, skills, and muscles to develop for singing. And of course, this development takes time. Ideally, students begin taking Bija Choir classes at age 5 and continue through the program until teenage years. However for the many students who join the program later in primary school, entrance into the Bija Children's Choir is considered by age and ability. Choir classes are offered as follows:

Prep Choir parents day.jpg

The Bija Preparatory Choir is for beginner students ages 7-12 without audition, and is an encouraging yet comfortable setting for inexperienced singers. Rhythmics activities start the first 15 minutes of class, and afterward students stand/sit in choir seating for vocal warmups and learning repertoire. The last activity of class usually involves a song with movement choreography, or a fun choir game that builds listening skills and community among students.

Goals of the Bija Preparatory Choir include:

  • Developing a sense of rhythmic buoyancy on a steady beat

  • Singing in “head” or “chest” voices as requested, & exploring other vocal qualities

  • Singing and recognizing on-pitch vs off-pitch

  • Breathing from abdomen to support healthy, free-flowing vocal tone

  • Moving, reading & performing basic rhythmic durations and patterns

  • Experiencing through movement: duration (quarter, eighth, half, whole, dotted), accent, meter, dynamics, tempo, articulation, even and uneven phrases, binary/ternary beat, rests, mode/character-- and picturing/reading them

  • Hearing and singing major/minor/pentatonic solfege scales & repertoire

  • Reading solfege melodies step-wise, knowing where to find “doh” in F Maj

  • Hearing & singing unison, maj/min 3rd, perfect 5th, octave intervals

  • Coordinating stepping the beat side to side as a group

  • Singing rounds and beginner part-songs to develop harmony skills

  • Learning and memorizing songs in different languages

  • Learning about performance composure in choir-wide concerts

  • Cultivating a love of singing through quality repertoire and vibrant class and performance experiences

Once students have completed a season of Preparatory Choir, they will be automatically considered for Concert Choir based on their harmony singing skills, rhythmic abilities and behavior composure demonstrated in class and performances. Requests for student assessments are welcome at any time.

***While the Preparatory Choir aims to help students develop skills that will qualify them for Concert Choir, musical and behavior development is a highly individualized process and therefore there is no way to guarantee that every Preparatory student will advance to Concert Choir.

Werner Hawaiian pic crop touched.jpg

The Bija Concert Choir is for early intermediate singers ages 8-14 by audition or invitation. Students find it fulfilling to work in 2 or 3 part harmony and be among other capable and focused singers, making the energy of this group inspiring and enthusiastic. There are opportunities for students to give ideas and help create certain aspects of performances, and students look forward to working with professional guest artists in annual concerts.

Many students spend at least one season in Prep Choir before moving up to Concert Choir, however it is also possible for new students to audition directly into Concert Choir, especially if they have singing experience or study an instrument. Students who are accepted straight into Concert Choir without a season of Preparatory Choir should be generally familiar with basic music notation and terminology as described in the Prep Choir Goals above (Home Study Booklets for each choir level are in process).

To enter Concert Choir, students must be able to sing consistently on pitch in a freely flowing head voice, hold one part of a 2-part harmony, show solid rhythmic ability (such as stepping a steady beat side to side & clapping the off-beats), and show a focused behavior and positive attitude composure in class and in performances.

Goals of the Bija Concert Choir include working with the foundational elements listed for Preparatory Choir class, plus:

  • Achieving and maintaining choral blend at different tempi and dynamics

  • Intermediate level Rhythmics, movement canons, mixed meter, syncopation

  • Hearing and singing modal solfege scales & repertoire

  • Reading solfege melodies step & skip-wise, finding “doh” in 1-sharp/1-flat keys

  • Hearing & singing all major, minor, and perfect intervals

  • Group dance coordination and expression

  • Singing rounds and songs in 2 and 3 part harmony

  • Self-evaluations after performances, watching video recordings and giving group critique in a positive, constructive manner

  • Building students' confidence and sense of fulfillment through participating in vibrant multicultural performances for the community

Treble Choir.JPG

The Bija Treble Choir is for advanced-intermediate young women singers ages 13 & up, designed to work on special benefit projects. By the time students reach this level they are committed young musicians and can advance to levels of choral excellence. Classes with accomplished music mentors, recording studio projects, and more performances are on the agenda. Rhythmics and theory studies deepen, and repertoire continues to be multicultural, ranging from a cappella arrangements to those featuring special instrumental skills within the choirs. In addition to projects, students participate in the choir-wide concerts.


The Bija Children's Choir demonstrates its commitment to the community by:

… being a GO LOCAL Sonoma County Member and shopping/hiring locally

… donating Bija Choir Gift Certificates to local school auctions

… performing for the community several times a year at low/no ticket cost

… participating in events such as holiday tree lighting or other ceremonies

… opening our choir classroom doors to friends and family at the holidays

… holding food/clothing drives for those in need

… offering need-based scholarships to low-income students

… employing local musicians, dancers, storytellers, graphic designers

… treading gently upon the earth by using reclaimed materials for artistic fundraiser projects, & saving resources by sending info & flyers digitally

… teaching young people to understand and appreciate a variety of cultural traditions, to serve the Sonoma County community and the greater world beyond as young ambassadors of harmony.

Summerfest 2009 Post-concertdDancing

Summerfest 2009 Post-concertdDancing


Q: Can my child's friend who is interested in Bija Choir come to watch?

A: Choir student friends are welcome to come try the first class of the season or mid-season by advance request, or attend our Community Holiday Classes in December. Apart from that we ask that there be no observers at weekly rehearsals in order to maintain best focus.

Q. My child's grandparents are visiting from out of town and can't make it to the concert-- may they come to watch the rehearsal?

A: Yes, grandparents have earned the golden privilege! Please let the Director know in advance about any grandparent visits, if possible.

Q: My child is 5yrs old and loves to sing. Can s/he sign up for Preparatory Choir?

A: Children may be 6yrs old but must be turning 7yrs old during the season in order to participate.

Q: Can my child move from Preparatory to Concert Choir at mid-season?

A: It is ideal for students to remain in the same choir level for a full season before advancing, however there are exceptions, and invitations into Concert Choir are at the discretion of the Director.

Q: Are refunds available if we run into schedule conflicts and can't attend for a few weeks or need to discontinue for some reason?

A: Sorry, there are no refunds given for missed or discontinued choir classes unless the cancellation is on the part of the Bija Choir.

Q: Does the Director offer private voice or piano lessons?

A: Yes! Please inquire to mariabija@gmail.com for private lesson fees and availability.

Q: Are there any choir classes during summer break?

A: Bija Choir takes a break during the summer. Occasionally the Director collaborates & works with summer camp programs.

Q: I used to sing in college. Are there Bija Choir classes for adults?


A: Depending on the Director’s availability, the Bija Choir offers Adult Vocal Ensemble workshops to parents / adult family members or friends who have choir experience, to learn a handful of songs that they perform at the choir-wide Bija Concerts.

stuart harvest pic 1.JPG


growing harmony for the world