by Rebecca Pauley
As I walked into a Young People's Chorus rehearsal at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, I saw a large group of boys and girls sight singing “Cantare” in Spanish. Their beautiful voices filled the room and all eyes were on their talented conductor, Elizabeth Nuñez.
I noticed when a singer needed help, he or she would turn to the person next to them and work with them until he got it right. As I looked at their smiling faces I began to realize that this was more than just an award winning chorus, this was a family.
Mrs. Nuñez's husband and Artistic Director, Francisco Nuñez, founded the YPC in 1988. The chorus, for more than twenty years, has had children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds taking part in a unique program of music education and child performance. This program not only helps them as adolescents but is a great asset to their success for the rest of their lives.
The chorus has performed, in, just to name a few, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and the American Ballet Theater. Some students even traveled to Germany and Japan! I got the chance to interview several chorus singers and Elizabeth Nuñez.
First, I was curious as to how all of these talented students became part of the YPC. More than 1300 students, ages 7 to 18, participate annually through the YPC’s many programs in New York City, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Elizabeth Nunez explained,“We audition children from all over NYC. They can call our office and sign up for an audition. Most of the children who come to sing with us have no musical training or experience. They come to us at 7 or 8 years old…and then grow up into the chorus.”
I then asked how she became involved in music and the YPC eight years ago. She further explained, “I always felt there was nothing else, really. I wanted to sing and I became a choir conductor because I enjoyed the community that it brings together. I enjoy the idea of bringing together all kinds of different people to work towards a common goal of creating something fantastic.”
Elizabeth Nunez, also a mom, talks about the kids she teaches with great respect and pride, “They (the children) are inspired by things that are real. They just don't like to sing about trees and rabbits; little childhood songs...they have very strong reactions to what is going on in the world around them, and, just like adults, they need a way to express that. And so, I think the way to inspire them is to give them something that is real and to treat them like they are real human beings and not lesser human beings just because they are younger.”
The kids have shared many amazing memories together during their time in the Young People's Chorus.
“I was in the Thanksgiving Day Parade!” said Jahmari Josiah, age 12,
from the Bronx. He continued, It was a really great experience…singing with Anne Hathaway in the parade.”
However, Jahmari's most memorable moment, “was this year's gala where we did a song called Cindy... everybody loved it and we got a standing ovation!”
Most of the kids agreed that the hardest part of being in the chorus was balancing their rehearsals, galas, and concerts with their schoolwork. Emily Ma, age 11, from
Manhattan, admitted that being in the YPC changed her life, but I could tell she knew it was worth it.
She smiled and explained,“Definitely I got busier. If you are a regular person you do not have that much opportunity to be in Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall or go to Ithaca. But YPC allows you to do all that. We get to go everywhere. It is really fun. Just now we performed with James Taylor, which was really cool.”
I also spoke with Virginia Creary, an alumni from the Young People's Chorus. Virginia explained that the YPC has greatly helped her with her success in college:
“They helped me with a scholarship. I am one of the first in my family to go to college and graduate. I really owe them so much.”
I asked her if she had any advice for the young ones now, and she said, “Just stick with it. It can be hard sometimes and it can be a struggle with schoolwork and trying to do so much, but it is definitely worth it just to continue and push through. They (YPC) will help you all the way, even through college. They are amazing people.”
Many students in the YPC have traveled the world to take part in competitions and performances. Kalia Simms, Brooklyn, age 13, Rebecca Houdjissi, age 14, Jamaica,
Queens and Myles Hall, age 12, Manhattan, have been to Wales to compete with other choirs.
“We got to meet people from all around the world. I actually met a couple of people from South Africa that I am still in touch with, and it was cool,” says Kalia.
I could tell how important the chorus was to the students as I watched the focused looks on their faces during rehearsal.
“I think it has to do with going back to expressing themselves and giving themselves a place where they can let their voice ring out,” said Mrs. Nuñez. “They have these emotions and they want to express themselves in an art form.”
I asked all of the students how being in the YPC changed their lives. Myles Hall explained,
“I think it has changed my life by exposing me to all these different cultures and all this different music from around the world and it gives you different points of view.”
I also asked Myles what was the most difficult part of being in the YPC. He informed me that, “You have to stay really dedicated and don’t get discouraged if you have to work hard.”
“...What I love most - the diversity, the music, how much we learn when we are here. It is really fun!” said Jordan Munoz, a seventh grader who started with the YPC four years ago.
All students in the YPC clearly love the learning experience that came along with being in the Young People's Chorus. “I know a lot about music now,” said Kalia Simms. “I performed at places that most people don’t get to perform at (such as) Carnegie Hall.”
But more than anything, they love their peers and their conductor.
“What I love the most - all my friends. I think that the people in this chorus are just amazing. Elizabeth is awesome. She is an amazing conductor. And, I have made so many friends that I probably never would have known if I hadn't been in this chorus,” said Rebecca Houdjissi.
“What Elizabeth says is that we are not better than the person next to us. So we all help each other, we all listen to each other, we all give opinions and we make ourselves better choristers and friends at the same time,” said Jordan Munoz, from Manhattan,
Jordan also echoed a sentiment made by all of the choristers interviewed, “The YPC has given me more courage and more confidence in myself.”
Elizabeth sums it up best, “Once they get here they really form such strong friendships with the other choristers…this is their family.”
Of course, the best part of the Young People’s Chorus is the concerts!
Elizabeth concludes, “I think our concerts are varied and engaging. There is a lot of different music. There is something for everyone – from classical to jazz to pop, gospel. We also do many different languages and folk songs from around the world, exploring different cultures. We also do a lot of movement to keep people visually interested. There is a lot going on.”
If you would like to learn more about the Young People’s Chorus, visit their site at www.ypc.org. If you would like to enjoy a concert, the schedule is as follows:
- June 19 Bang on a Can Marathon (Winter Garden)
- June 21 Apple Store (Upper West Side)
- June 27 Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY
- June 30 Radio Radiance at WNYC
- July 20- Aug. 2 Tour of Brazil and Argentina
- Sept. 9 Performance in the Park – Times Square
- Sept. 11 9/11 Commemoration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Oct. 17 Sonic Festival Marathon
- Oct. 27 National Theater (Dominican Republic)
- Nov. 5 Carnegie Hall Community Sing (Hostos College, Bronx)