Montgomery County students who love singing in a group now have another opportunity to pursue their passion.
The new Strathmore Children’s Chorus will perform its first public concert on June 10 in the Strathmore hall in North Bethesda.
The concert features music written for the occasion by New York City composer James Papoulis, who is known for his work with students from different musical cultures around the world.
The event in the 2,000-seat hall will also include the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras based at Strathmore, and the Holton-Arms School chorus based in Bethesda.
The night of singing will cap a two-year effort to create a children’s chorus that reflects the diversity in Montgomery County, says Strathmore president Monica Hazangeles,
“It’s our first student chorus,” she says about the group for ages 8 to 17 that includes students from public, private and homeschool programs.
“We wanted to celebrate the diversity of the county,” says Hazangeles. “Students come from many cultures and different family backgrounds, and we wanted to bring them together in a musical way.”
Auditions are closed for the inaugural 2012-13 season but will be held again next summer for the 2013-14 season.
Students pay a fee of $500, which does not include long-distance travel costs.
Partial scholarships are available based on financial need, and Strathmore currently welcomes contributions to raise at least $5,000 to help fund the program.
To turn its vision into reality, Strathmore teamed up with Christopher Guerra, choir director at the A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, who approached Strathmore with the idea about two years ago.
“He has a real passion for creating an experience for students outside the school environment,” says Hazangeles, who noted that Strathmore had also been thinking about the idea since the opening of its 2,000-seat concert hall in 2005.
“Together we mapped it out,” she says about developing the program with Guerra,its conductor and artistic director.
Working with him are choral manager Kari Liuzzi, choral director at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, and accompanist Hei Jung Kim, music teacher at Dr. Sally Ride Elementary School in Germantown.
All three, who continue to work at their schools, are paid for their chorus work by Strathmore, Guerra says.
The chorus budget, which covers staffers, music rights, commissions, uniforms and other expenses, is likely to run more than $50,000 for the first year because so many students signed up for auditions, he says.
Guerra says he expected 30 to 50 students to try out after spreading the word through the school system and choral instructors, but he now has about 130 students in the program.
“We feel very successful at meeting this vocal need for young people,” he says about the unexpected demand.
Grouped by age, students sing within ensembles and also as a whole.
The Young Men’s Chorus is for ages 13 to 17 to accommodate maturing voices, he says. There is also a group for ages 10 to 17 and the Treble Chorus for ages 8 to 12.
As part of a professional chorus, students have access to “high quality instruction and high quality [musical] literature,” says Guerra.
They also have opportunities to sing in professional venues like Strathmore and travel outside the county.
Hannah Broder, 15, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, says she enjoys working with other students who share her passion for singing.
“It’s a chance to meet new people and see people that you would not have met otherwise,” she says.
The chance to travel appeals to Hannah’s younger sister Aliza Broder, 13, an eighth grader at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School, who traveled to Dallas last year with Guerra and Loiderman’s chamber choir.
“He’s really passionate about music,” she says about Guerra. “He doesn’t expect greatness — he expects perfection — but he pushes us lightly until we know the song.”
“It was so much fun to go out and have a chance to perform,” says Aliza, who also appreciates the family-like bonding that takes place among chorus members.
“You can hear other people sing, and you have to match their tone,” she says.
Both sisters participated in a workshop last fall to acquaint visiting composer Papoulis with students in the chorus and their ideas for the inaugural concert.
“He has a message in his songs, that we are children, that we’re the future, and that you have to listen to us,” says Aliza about the chance to shape the first-ever concert in June.