Choeur D’Enfants du Benin – Benin, Africa

Serendipitous moment during the Golden Gate Festival, 2006. Hosted by The Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

Every three years the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir hosts the Golden Gate International Choral Festival. And so every three years I take almost a month off in the middle of summer to fully immerse myself, heart and soul, into the only international children’s choral festival held in the USA.

The image above is one of those serendipitous moments you remember forever. It evolved in a matter of just a few seconds ::

In 2006 the final rehearsals and closing ceremonies were held at Skyline High School so hundreds of singers were busy preparing for their stage time, having lunch, running around goofing off, singing and laughing in dozens of languages. It lasts all day, each day, and is a festival of sounds, colors, cultures and all age groups swirling together. As I left the venue to check out what was going on outside I had to walk right through the space where a visiting choir from Africa was taking a rest and eating lunch. The Choeur D’Enfants du Benin were some of the spunkiest and coolest kids visiting that year and they were a really tight, close knit group. They spoke French so we could communicate, even though my French wasn’t what it used to be. As I stepped carefully around and in-between the relaxing singers, in the foyer of the auditorium, I saw this very cool mural on the wall of the entrance way. It was painted by local high school students and signed by them in support of The Arts (YAY!). The Choeur D’Enfants were all spread out in front of it. In an instant I “saw” the image I wanted to create. Maybe it was his orange shirt and his electric, alive eyes but it was a perfect match and it was etched in my brain in a heartbeat.

So, I asked this boy if he would please stand at exactly this specific spot and then look at me (in French, hah, first time using it in years). I already had the composition blocked out in my mind’s eye so stayed where I was in order to witness every nuance in his expression as he checked me out too. It’s one of those times when you can see the entire image’s composition ahead of time, dial in the technical camera stuff in a heartbeat then cross your fingers something magic will happen. I call it setting the stage. I tried to make a fun game of it because his fellow singers and his Maestro were all just outside of the frame laughing and taking part too. It was great! Once he got to the right spot I yelled something like “Vous l’avez!” (you got it!, sort of formal) I shot like mad, time was frozen. Our star was just as mesmerized as I was. It worked. I was speaking to him and trying to keep him curious and guessing. He was the best! Once I knew it was done, I asked him to turn around and look at the wall.

He totally cracked up. He got it immediately. Then I crawled over (I was on my knees for the right camera angle) and showed him how the image looked on my camera’s LCD screen. The bond was made, the trust was there, so I had a gas photographing almost every singer in the group doing all sorts of fun, crazy things like hugging each other and laughing, being happy kids. After the Festival Week came to a close I sent all the images to the children’s Conductor, their Maestro, in Africa.

About The Festival

The festival lasts about a week and young singers from all around this tiny world converge on the East Bay to sing, learn, play, explore, compete and have the time of their lives. As a “choir Dad” and also a really lucky guy who gets to wander just about anywhere I choose toting about 60 lbs of camera gear, it’s exhausting; but, also one of the best ways I’ve ever discovered to re-charge my own creative batteries. After recovering from an almost sleepless week, I get to relive priceless moments I’ll hang onto forever and share with everyone I meet. Not only do all the local choir families, like us, home stay the visiting musicians but they also take care of their every need while staying here in the USA i.e.breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleeping, cleaning and driving … you name it. This favor is returned when each summer our own children travel abroad and stay with other host families in places like Estonia, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Mexico, Denmark, Sweden, Finland … the list goes on and on and includes all the continents on Earth. My daughter has first hand knowledge of bike lanes in eco friendly lands I most likely will never see in this life. She has a long list of friends from Indonesia to Denmark who she keeps in touch with. Is that cool or what!!! Priceless.

The story this image tells is important. Art, Music, Children, Sharing, Joy, Discovery … one planet with children all singing together … love it! Believe me, we could change the world with this healing, healthy and magical energy! Hey all you grown ups! Listen up! This works.

The Golden Gate Festival happens again July 12-18th, 2015. If you want to have a great time reading and exploring here’s their new site’s URL :: (I did the photography for the entire site too. It’s compiled mostly from the 2012 festival with a few from previous years). Oh yeah, this post wasn’t really supposed to be a plug but I can’t help it. It’s a must for ‘children of all ages’.