Like all Eastman students, I’ve attended some amazing concerts. I saw the sold-out Ron Carter Quartet concert last year and saw Marian McPartland in her annual jazz recital, not to mention the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Eastman’s own Ying Quartet and the many talented soloists who perform with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra every year. And, of course, that’s not including the countless concerts each year that feature Eastman students.
However, despite all of these great concerts, last Thursday night I saw one of the most inspiring concerts I’ve seen during my year and two months at Eastman. It wasn’t sold out, and it didn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money. It was a 30 minute performance of the Eastman Children’s Chorus, directed by Laurie Jenschke.
The ECC is part of Eastman’s Community Education Division, whose offices are located on the fourth floor of the main building of the school. Recently, the CED has added several new youth programs including a youth gamelan ensemble and a youth jazz ensemble. All of these new programs help to fulfill the CED’s mission of “enriching our community with a musical conservatory experience designed to motivate students of all ages and levels.”
According to Jenschke, the CED had the “vision to support the creation of an ensemble that would provide the children and youth of Rochester with an opportunity to experience excellence through singing performance. Along with the focus of providing choral music education to children, an organization like this also provides children with a place to belong, a model of discipline and performance excellence that teaches children how to reach and achieve a goal and have fun at the same time. This program is about helping children succeed through music preparation and performance.”
Given the need for such programs and the cutting of the budgets of the arts programs in Rochester, “many students have a burning love for singing but don’t have an ensemble to perform in,” said Jenschke. The CED announced a position for someone to help create such programs, and she was hired this July.
After talking to both music teachers in the public schools and other musically knowledgeable people, the end result was the ECC, which is made up of 36 grade-school-aged students. Eventually, plans are to divide the current ECC into multiple choirs grouped by grade. One of the choirs, the Primary Chorus, will consist of students in first and second grades and will include both singing as well as ear training and movement.
Jenschke is also assisted by Deanna Joseph and Brian Kittredge, two Eastman doctoral conducting students who conduct the ECC part-time.
These students, who come from the Pathway program, the School of the Arts and both Rochester and suburban schools, meet every Thursday afternoon for rehearsal, and had their first concert last Thursday night. Future plans include a tour to Albany, NY, where they will perform at the Governor’s Mansion and at St. Margaret’s Home for Disabled Children.
While there wasn’t anything as difficult as Handel’s “Messiah” on the program, the pieces sent messages of peace and happiness, which seemed especially appropriate given the current international atmosphere.
The lyrics of one song, “Please Grant My Wish For Peace,” were written by kids in a Sunday School class in Illinois. Interspersed among the singing were a few readings that members of the chorus had written, titled “Peace,” “Hope” and “Joy,” respectively.
Like the atmosphere, which existed as soon as the concert began, the singing was pretty good, especially for an ensemble of students ranging from grades 3 to 8. All of the soloists sang with clear dictation and were easily heard in the back of the hall, where I was sitting.
In fact, the entire treble choir consisted of pure talent. One soloist, Rickell Gordon, received loud applause and several cheers from the audience while she was singing.
The first song featured a violin solo along with the vocal part and, as I was walking up to the top of the staircase in Kilbourn, I honestly thought that a high school student was playing. Turns out it was fourth grader Christina Yee.
After the concert, I talked to a few of the students about their favorite parts of ECC. Third grader Shannon Dempsey said, “I like how you just get to sing with all the different people.” The same sentiment was echoed by her sister Sarah, who added, “It was fun learning all the songs.”
To me and, I think to a lot of people, this is what music is all about ? having fun and meeting new and interesting people in the process. Too often, we get caught up in our practice rooms, playing scale after scale and etude after etude, forgetting why music inspired us enough to attend Eastman, as opposed to a standard, four year college.
While there were almost no Eastman students in attendance, the audience ? which consisted of mostly family members ?had almost as much fun as the singers did, and greeted the end of the concert with a standing ovation. The concert gave me, and everyone else who was in the audience, a true appreciation of music education majors everywhere.