Hundreds of sixth-grade students in Fairfax County will expend a lot of vocal energy the next two days rehearsing for the annual county wide elementary choral festival.

The festival ends with a free public concert at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Rehearsals and concert take place in Hayfield High School, 7630 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria.

This is the fifth year for the choral festival, according to music teacher Jill Compton, president of the Fairfax General Music Educators Association, which co-sponsors the event along with Fairfax County's public school system.

"The objective of the festival is to provide an opportunity for recommended children from the sixth grade to have a rewarding choral experience with a nationally known (choral) clinician," according to Compton. "We try to broaden the children's scope and expose them to as many kinds to music as possible."

Compton said students in each participating elementary school audition for the festival and begin rehearsals in January. "It's an honor to be selected and they have to work hard," she said.

Some 415 students representing at least 51 of the 125 elementary schools in the county are taking part in this year's festival, the music teacher estimated.

(Arlington County and the City of Alexandria also conduct elementary school choral festivals each year, according to officials in both school systems.)

Participants from each Fairfax County school may number anywhere from six to 12 students. The number allotted each school is based on enrollment at the school, Compton said.

Music teacher usually spend several hours each week rehearsing students within each school, then meet for area-wide joint rehearsals with other nearby schools. Three areawide rehearsal sessions were held prior to the first countywide organizational rehearsal scheduled last Monday evening, Compton said.

Highlights of the festival are expected to begin with Friday's full-day singing session under guest conductor Sandra Skeenes. Rehearsals tomorrow run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday's the big day: Morning rehearsals start at 10:30 a.m. and culminate in a 45-minute concert beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the Hayfield school auditorium. The public is invited to attend, and the hall is usually filled with friends, family and area music lovers, according to Compton.

Music on the program will include semi-classical and classical selections by Randall Thompson and Benjamin Britten, in addition to patriotic popular and folk tunes.

A special recording of the concert is also made and is available for purchase by participants. Compton said the records sell for $5 and purchase by the students is not obligatory. Proceeds are used by the county to help defray festival costs, shesaid.