Early this morning, dozens of high schoolers will arrive at Woolsey Hall to trade in their books for a day of singing.
The Yale Glee Club’s fifth annual High School’s Choral Festival brings four high-school choirs from the New Haven area to campus to rehearse with nationally recognized conductor Josephine Lee in preparation for a concert that same evening. Each choir has prepared short individual sets and has practiced three songs that will be sung together with the YGC.
Timothy Snyder, interim director of the YGC, staged the first festival in 2003 with the assistance of Jennifer Catena ’05, former outreach chair for the YGC. They aimed to establish a relationship between Yale and New Haven public schools that would inspire the students to learn and perform quality choral music and expose them to a positive role model from a similar background, Catena said.
The guest conductor for the festival is usually from an underprivileged minority background, Catena said, and has previous experience conducting youth choirs. As the artistic director and conductor of the Chicago Children’s Choir, Lee — who is Korean-American — has been recognized for bringing her choir national and international fame. Lee, the first female conductor for the event, will rehearse with the choirs all day to make their sets performance worthy.
“In a sense, it is a clinic for these kids to work with someone different and sing with a larger group — it’s a special thing outside of their regular program,” YGC Outreach Chair Amy Dunagin ’07 said.
After rehearsing their individual pieces, they will practice their set with the Glee Club, which includes the Moses Hogan spiritual “The Battle of Jericho” and David Frazier’s “I Need You To Survive.”
YGC Director Jeffrey Douma said the event has been very popular with the students in the past and increased the size and retention rate of the choirs who participated in previous years.
Frank Martignetti, choral director of the High School in the Community Chorus, said the festival gives his students the opportunity for new musical experiences.
“We’re in a situation where we are getting kids who have not had a lot of prior choral experience,” Martignetti said. “The kids are very enthusiastic, they want to do it … it really stretches their horizons.”
Scott McCoy, music director at the Hill Regional Career High School, said participating in the festival helped motivate students in his choir.
“The main benefit in such activities is the exposure to a different kind of musicality than that which students are most familiar with,” McCoy said in an e-mail. “Last year, students were apprehensive, but after the event they were very excited. This has helped motivate participation this year.”
High School in the Community, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, and Wilbur Cross High School have been invited to the festival every year. Hill Regional’s choir performed for the first time in 2006. The number of students performing in the festival has nearly doubled since it was first held in 2003.
In addition to working with Lee, students also have the opportunity to discuss college life and singing after high school with YGC members over meals in Commons.
“As choral musicians, we know that singing together creates very real and meaningful bonds between people in a way that few things can, so a choral festival seemed a perfect way to bring Yale students and New Haven students together,” Douma said.
One difficulty the YGC has faced has been expanding the audience for the festival, Dunagin said.
Martignetti said the YGC has generally been very responsive to tailoring the festival to individual schools’ needs.
“The YGC sits us down and asks us, ‘How can we improve? How can we support your school’s program?’ They are very good about listening,” said Martignetti.
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“For me, it’s my favorite day in this job,” said Martignetti. “The kids do such a great job … it’s a wonderful musical opportunity.”
The students’ concert will take place tonight in Woolsey Hall at 7 p.m. and is free to the public.