The Columbus International Children's Choir will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a spring concert Sunday, May 20.

It's a milestone that Tatiana Kats, the founder, executive director, artistic director and conductor of the choir, said sneaked up on her.

"I think, actually, it's hard to believe," Kats said. "I only realized this year that it's been 20 years. I was not even thinking about that. It goes so fast. It seems it's a long time and we've come a long way, but at the same time it goes so fast."

The choir Kats started in 1998 with six children has grown into an organization that offers music education to 250 youngsters from throughout central Ohio in four groups from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The choir is based out of the Bethel International United Methodist Church in northwest Columbus.

The spring concert is scheduled at 6 p.m. at Karl Road Baptist Church, 5750 Karl Road, in Columbus' Northland neighborhood.

General-admission tickets are $15. Senior citizens and students will be admitted for $10.

Kats said two composers would be on hand for the debut or their original works.

Timothy Sarsany, artistic director of the Columbus Gay Men's Chorus, composed a song for students in grades 8 to 12, and Sally Albrecht of North Carolina provided a work to be performed by the youngest children.

"The hardest thing is coming up with these ideas and making sure it's something that can be performed, often with little rehearsing," said Albrecht, who will be coming to Columbus for the concert and to visit with Cary Criss, assistant conductor of the children's choir.

Criss, who is in her second year with the choir, and Albrecht both attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

"It is a sheer pleasure," Criss said. "The music is so fine. Tatiana sets the bar so high, which is wonderful. We want to reach the children at their level, of course, but have them really stretch and do fine, quality music.

"It is an international choir, so we try to do a variety of cultures. Usually we try to always have a piece in a different language, even with the babies."

Wen Yang of Dublin is the mother of two boys who are in the choir.

"They're not really talented in singing," Yang said of her children. "They're very good kids. They can learn, they can be taught."

More importantly than developing their vocal talents, Yang said, is the way her children -- Dustin, 12, and Ayden, 10 -- have grown through participation.

"You learn different cultures," she said. "They sing different songs. You get to sing Russians songs, Chinese songs, African songs. That's why we thought to join the choir in the first place, to get that exposure. They get to stand on stage, and that helps with self-confidence.

"The true force in the choir is our director. Our choir is ordinary children, your next-door neighbor.

"(Kats) picks everybody as long as you are willing to learn. She works with them over the years. Her ears, her talent (make) a difference between our choir and the rest of the world."

The spring concert will serve as a sort of tune-up for the Vocalise group of older students in preparation for the World Choir Games, taking place July 2-10 in Tshwane, South Africa.

The games will feature 400 choirs and "thousands and thousands of singers," Kats said.

"We are super excited and a little bit scared because the flight is 17 hours from Atlanta," she said. "It's a completely new experience. I don't think anybody from our choir has been to Africa.

"We are looking forward to it. We are doing a lot of African songs in preparation for the concert. The games are super fun."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1