This was the prize-winning multi-racial, multi-cultural Young People’s Chorus of New York City, auditioned and drawn from more than a dozen schools rich and poor, without requiring tuition. But rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed, till their voices and personae gleam like gold. This program was varied, ranging from a spirited and traditional “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Give Us Peace) to a “King and I” medley, all arranged for mostly unchanged voices amplified, with group choreography. And don’t blame me if you fall in love with the 13th little girl from the left with the cute bow in the hair and the purple dress, joined by the countless voices and supplemented by both orchestra and light show.
The high-energy March 10 performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center was dazzling, with phalanx after phalanx of singing groups appearing and singing from memory—anthems like “You Will Be Found,” “Shenandoah” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Leader, conductor and founder of the YPC/NY is MacArthur “genius” Award-winner Francisco Nuñez who started it all in 1988, now grown to 2,000-plus youngsters, a couple of hundred of whom performed this one night. His choristers not only complete high school and continue to college with zero exceptions, their motivation leads to varied careers and even Broadway success, as in the current case of alumna Aneesa Folds.
And among the young performers, “No one knows who is rich or poor. They are all equal,” says Director Nuñez, who is himself of a Dominican-immigrant background.
Honoree was San Franciscan financier-composer Gordon Getty, 85, with selections from his “Young America” set. Three used his own texts: “Hark the Homeland,” “Heather Mary” and the quirky “My Uncle’s House.” Clearly Getty loves music of Americana and writes that way in a folk-like manner, with occasional jumps of fifth and familiar seventh-chord effects—nothing radical, but all quite digestible. The performance featured a wandering (anonymous) lady soloist in country-fiddler tunes. I particularly relished his catchy number in three-quarters time.
CHORUS NOTES—The expanding YPC group has offshoots in at least four other states, growing like topsy…The entire quasi-professional operation is underwritten by massive fund-raising (The benefit dinner/concert here alone yielded more than $1 million in donations)…Among the notable catalysts to the YPC success is choreographer Jacquelyn Bird, who can keep 100 kids swinging in unison on stage without bump or mishap. One girl did slip and take a spill, was laid flat, and within seconds led coolly off stage to safety by two colleagues, with the music barely missing a beat…This was among the last large-hall concerts in Manhattan, prior to the mass closures prompted by the Covid19 virus pandemic….The chorus has many feathers in the cap, including a recent top-prize victory in a British Columbia competition, competing against several high-power opera choruses…. Bottom line: Why oh why can’t we have such overwhelming choruses in every part of the US, offering both musical and social impact on a massive scale, with mass exultation?? Hard to tell who are the bigger winners, the kids in YPC or their enkindled audiences.”