How many 8, 9, or 12 year-old kids get to perform with major musical stars? Over the past three years, members of the boys and girls choirs at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven have had that opportunity.
They have rehearsed and sung with nationally known performers Livingston Taylor and Tom Chapin and, on Friday, May 26, they will be performing with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. They will sing a religious composition by the late jazz great (and former Wilton resident) Dave Brubeck.
It’s all part of the Music 4 Music concert series that raises money to support the choirs and the music program at the church.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Twice a week, a handful of parents along the shoreline pack their sons and daughters along with their own books, office work, or laptops and head into New Haven for practice. But it’s not practice for soccer or basketball or dance.
Instead, it is for choir practice. The boys and girls are members of the two well-respected choirs: the Choir of Men and Boys established in 1885 and the Choir of Men and Girls established in 2003.
The choirs follow the English tradition of boy sopranos (or trebles as they are called) and girls that has been part of the Anglican (Episcopal in the U.S.) tradition for centuries. Even today, public radio stations in the U.S. broadcast the annual Christmas Eve services from various cathedrals in England. Each choir also has a contingent of professional singers who sing the bass, tenor, and alto sections. Often older girls and boys return as part of the professional singers supporting the boys and girls.
The two choirs are the equivalent of the athletic travel team—they are by audition only.
Children can audition as early as age 8.
(In the interest of full disclosure, my grandfather was a member of the very first choir, and my brother was also a choirboy.)
Alexandra Spasov of Madison is in her second year in the choir of men and girls. Now, 11 years old, Spasov says she wanted to audition because she liked choir at school.
“But I was nervous,” she says.
After joining the choir, she said that “everyone feels like family—like sisters.” Nadia Jordan-Spasov, her mother, says it provides both friendships and a great musical education for Alexandra.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the boys and girls.
Jaden Lee of Branford is completing his first year. He’s excited to move up from novice to full choirboy status or “singing boy” as he called it.
He said that being in the choir has made him more independent.
“We have to get along and work together,” he says.
His mother, Jungyuen Choi, explained that the parents share the driving responsibilities through carpools. But parents are involved in other ways. One parent is in charge after each rehearsal to make sure the boys and girls are picked up by designated people. Parents also are expected to drive choir members to concerts, to provide snacks, and more. The choir parents have traditionally made the famous “Trinity chili” that is served at the food court of the annual Holiday Bazaar.
Ben Jenkins, 13, of Branford recruited his friend Dylan Holm, also 13, to the choir. Jenkins says that among things he has learned in the choir is music, how to walk properly, and manners. Holm added that he liked meeting the boys from other towns.
Both Jenkins and Holm have sung with Livingston and Chapin.
“It’s different than our normal music; it’s fun,” Jenkins says.
All the choir members are excited about the up-coming trip this late June to England. The girls and boys will be there for a week visiting various churches and singing a number of services. Of course, there is time for sight-seeing and fun.
Danielle Morgan of Guilford wasn’t surprised that her 9 year-old son Wyatt Morgan-Berry wanted to join the choir.
“He’s a thespian through and through,” she says.
But it took three auditions to be accepted. His older brother, 11-year-old Cole, wasn’t as interested, but now enjoys the choir, especially the Friday night suppers, the camp, and the concerts.
Their mother says it “is an amazing experience that I would advise all to take advantage of,” pointing to the community of choristers and parents, the musical education, the travel, and the special events. “It is an aspect of my children’s development I feel blessed they have access to—it offers them calm, perspective, love, community, and joy.”
Often the boys and girls are recruited by friends; sometimes teachers suggest the child consider auditioning. Other choir members from the shoreline include Jack Woods and Juliette Perez of Guilford, Margaux Lux of Branford, and Rachel Ford of Clinton.
Supporting the Program
In 2015, church members who wanted to support the choirs formed the Music 4 Music committee led by Duo Dickinson of Madison. His two sons were both choirboys and it is what brought him to the church.
“The music program is expensive and we needed to find a way to provide support for it,” Dickinson says. “Over the decades hundreds of choir alumni have learned so much in the choir, that we wanted to ensure it continued.”
Since the concert series began in 2014, more than $100,000 has been raised to support the programs.
“This is our first foray into jazz,” Dickinson says of the upcoming concert, “and we are very excited.”
Chris and Dan Brubeck have carried on the tradition of their father, Dave Brubeck. Dan (drums) and Chris (bass & trombone) are joined by Mike DeMicco (guitar) and Chuck Lamb (piano). They’ve performed in concerts, at jazz festivals, and on college campus across America and Europe including the Monterey and Newport Jazz Festivals. They also kicked off National Public Radio’s live “Toast of the Nation” program on New Year’s. They record on the Koch label; Classified, their latest release, has earned raves.
A highlight of the concert will be the choirs performing one of Dave Brubeck’s religious compositions. While even causal jazz fans know of his famous compositions such as “Take Five” and his albums, Time Out, At Carnegie Hall, Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A., and many others, fewer people know that Brubeck wrote and performed a lot of religious music. One of those pieces will be part of the concert. “La Fiesta de la Posada” was written in 1975 and is a choral Christmas pageant. The last part of the piece is “God’s Love Made Visible.” That piece will be sung by the boys and girls at the concert. Iola Brubeck, Brubeck’s wife, wrote the lyrics as she did for most of his work.
“We are delighted that we can bring this relatively unknown piece by Brubeck to jazz lovers,” Dickinson says.
Concert goers will be greeted by the Neighborhood Music School’s Premier Jazz Ensemble. This group is an audition-only, full scholarship group that brings together some of the best and most dedicated young jazz musicians in the area. Under the direction of arranger and composer Jeff Fuller, it includes many high school jazz musicians as well as adults. They have been featured at the 2016 New Haven Jazz Festival and alumni include Grammy nominee Christian Sands.
“To hear these terrific musicians as people enter, is an extra bonus,” Dickinson says. “We are delighted to be collaborating with the Neighborhood Music School.”
The Concert is Friday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven at the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for students with patron tickets available at $100, $250, and $500. For more information, visit trinitynewhaven.org/Brubeck-brothers.