For many years, I have hosted a Choral Festival which Ridge alum Ben Carlin affectionately named Choralpalooza. (Thanks Ben!) Today was Choralpalooza 2019. The morning was filled with my three choirs – Chorale (Women’s Choir-grades 9 & 10), Concert Choir (SATB choir-grades 9-12 guys-grades 11-12 girls) and A Cappella Choir Honors (Select SSATB choir) and choirs from Hanover Park, Somerville, New Providence, Warren Hills and Newark Academy. In the morning, each choir gets a 20-minute time slot – two-song maximum – and an onstage clinic.
This year our clinician was Dr. Brandon Williams from Rutgers University. Exceptional insight. Outstanding rapport with our singers. Top-notch pacing. Creative critique and comments for every level of performance. We shared a bit of background with Brandon prior to his work on stage so he had points of reference upon which to focus as he addressed each group. Each of us also writes comments for the others. The sharing comes from a place of deep love, respect and admiration of our respective programs. We’ve grown up together. We’ve watched each other’s programs shift in all kinds of ways over the years. We are so much more than choral colleagues.
As part of the preparation, the Ridge kids are asked to bring 2 dozen cookies OR brownies OR cupcakes to create 48-feet of a dessert bar during lunch. Goodies are purchased 3/$.25. Ridge treats the Directors to lunch – Jersey Mike’s this year – only the best for my friends! Six choirs find places to sit on the floor of the PAC lobby to eat lunch, mingle and socialize. Thirty minutes later, we reconvene in the PAC.
This year we chose soloists (or a duet) to represent each school as a part of the afternoon activities. Before those kids sang, two of our Directors sang the duet from Lakme – sending shivers down our spines – pristine blend and balance…heavenly harmonies! Wow. What a treat! The solo representatives from each school sang beautifully and the support they received was reflected in individual standing ovations. Stellar work.
The day concluded with a Massed Choir sing of Here’s Where I Stand from the movie Camp. The newest addition to the Ridge Family, accompanist Ed Alstrom, brought in his HAMMOND ORGAN to fill out the piano and percussion accompaniments. We divided the solos into six parts so each school could be represented. Brandon rehearsed the 420 singers on stage – “bringing us all to church” with their performance. What a way to end the day!
There’s a LOT that goes into the planning and preparation of Choralpalooza; parent help to set up desserts at 7am and then more parents to sell desserts at noon; nine sets of choral risers and the Steinway need to be moved from the choir room to the stage and back again; sound and lights have to be set; mics placed; my groups need to rehearse and I need to conduct them; the schedule needs to stay accurate to afford each group equal stage and clinic time; lunch needs to be delivered; the PAC lobby and choir room need to be cleaned immediately following lunch so as not to interfere with the school day…it’s a lot. I don’t list this for any other reason than stating that the team of parents and section leaders and officers I have from year to year never disappoint. With a day that begins at 8a with the welcoming of 450+ guests, by 2p it is all returned to its respective place. I am grateful for everyone who makes the day run so smoothly.
This year, I was struck by the magnitude of watching 420 young singers crowd onto a stage and sing their hearts out. It’s really remarkable when you stop to think about what it takes to make that happen. Hours of tedious rehearsal. Commitment to the greater good. Patience to help guide them to an understanding of what the choral art is and can be for them. Patience in dealing with the daily “events” that consume a teenager. Dedication to the knowledge that if you can get them to buy into the journey, they will have an experience that is usually indescribable. And the beauty of bringing this all together with people in whom you’ve invested and know and love continues to create a deeper and deeper appreciation of the magic of the choral art. Six schools. Six Directors. A wide variety of repertoire. Varied conducting styles and interpretations. A depth of commitment that knows no bounds. The knowledge that we have each other’s backs. Thick or thin. Good times and bad. Man, it really doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m grateful and thankful…and tired…
Thanks, as always for reading.