The Pasadena Master Chorale (PMC) gave its debut performance only last May but, from the beginning, reaching out to introduce students to the incomparable joy of choral music has been a key part of the choir's mission. During that first concert, the Washington Middle School Glee Club was invited to sing the treble chorus role in Orff's Carmina Burana - and, this holiday season, the precedent set last spring will continue, when roughly 30 students from John Muir High School, Blair High School and, once again, Washington Middle School join the 75-voice community chorus in "Christmas with the Pasadena Master Chorale."
The program of Christmas favorites will take place on December 11 at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church in Pasadena and on December 13 at 4:00 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. Audiences will hear sacred classics, beloved secular tunes and celebrated choruses from Handel's Messiah, along with traditional carols for everyone - choir and audience members alike - to sing. But it's the young singers on stage who especially excite Jeffrey Bernstein, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Pasadena Master Chorale.
"We are proud to share the stage with these wonderfully talented young singers and are inspired by their passion for and dedication to choral music," says Bernstein, who will conduct the high school combined choir for Pasadena Unified School District's Music Festival in April 2010. "As public funding for arts education withers, it falls to local arts organizations like PMC to offer opportunities to the students in our community. PMC strives to serve the greater community of Pasadena and being part of a community includes connecting with the young people in that community."
It's the talent of the students that impress - and inspire - PMC's Director of Education, Cindy Abbott. "There are many students with wonderful solo voices, the type of voice that is beginning to develop and should be encouraged toward classical music," explains Abbott, a music teacher at Washington Middle School. "These performances are a great opportunity for them to develop their voices in the context of a professional group, where they can hear other voices of their part and learn to follow and read notes in four-part music."
"And the students," adds Benita Scheckel, choir director at Blair High School, "are benefiting from the experience on a number of levels. The kids are blown away by the incredible sounds of the chorale and by how quickly they synthesize the music," says Scheckel. "It's an invaluable opportunity for my students to hear quality singing in a professionally run atmosphere. They hear reiterations of things they hear daily in class. They are also really enjoying and taking great pride in their mentors."
Members of the Pasadena Master Chorale act as those mentors. At rehearsals, mentors sit beside students to help them follow the music, clarify Bernstein's instructions, and generally answer any musical questions that arise.
Ignacio Flores, a senior at Muir High School has only praise for his mentor. "The music is the greatest challenge but I am learning so much," Flores says. "My mentor Dimitri is very friendly and encouraging. He has an amazing voice."
Keleen Lewkewich, choir director at Muir High School, concurs. "Hearing, seeing, and sitting next to an adult who loves music as much as they do has been fantastic for my students," says Lewkewich, who approached PMC about working with her students after she attended the chorale's first concert last spring and "fell in love with" their sound. "My students see that they can continue to sing throughout their lives. I hope to make concerts with the chorale a tradition!"
So do the students. "It is a challenge to keep up with the pace of the chorale and Jeff's detailed oriented conducting," confesses Michael Aceneaux, a 12th grader at Muir. "But it is exciting to sing with an advanced group at such a young age and I love the music. I can't wait to find out what we are going to sing next."
But PMC is committed to reaching out to far more than the students performing with them this December. Tickets to concerts are available to all students at half price. "This enables them to experience our concerts and encourages exposure to classical music," Abbott explains.
Nor do Abbott's plans stop here. A Vocal Solo Competition is scheduled to take place in May 2010 and eventually she hopes to work not only with students at the high school level but at local elementary and middle schools as well. "In the long term, we would like to help PUSD create music programs and offer classes in theory, conducting, audition technique and sight singing," she reveals.
Tickets for "Christmas with the Pasadena Master Chorale" are reasonably priced at $10 and may be purchased by visiting the Pasadena Master Chorale's website, www.pasadenamasterchorale.org, through any Chorale member, or at the door. Complete details on concerts, ticket prices and venue locations can be found on the website as well. Recorded information is available by phone at 626.208.0009.
The First Congregational Church is located at 464 East Walnut Street in Pasadena. Altadena Community Church is located at 943 East Altadena Drive in Altadena.