At last year's concert of the Fresno County Youth Choir, it was easy to pick up on the impressive musicality and artistic potential of this all-star ensemble made up of some of the county's best student singers.
Just wait till you hear this year's concert, says Robert Bullwinkel of the Fresno County Office of Education, which sponsors the group. Last year, 40 singers took the stage. This year it will be 70.
We caught up with Bullwinkel via email to talk about Saturday's concert.
Question: For those who aren't familiar, explain the concept of the Fresno County Youth Choir.
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Answer: The Fresno County Youth Choir fills a unique artistic and educational need in the Valley. Singers from our wonderful high school and university choirs are able to come together in a summer "teaching choir" dedicated to creating the next generation of choral musicians, teachers and vocalists. The group is committed to modern, multicultural music that gives voice to the diversity of our community.
What was response like to last year's concert?
The Youth Choir's 2010 summer season was a wonderful success, both artistically and educationally. Audience members at the standing-room-only concert were moved by the group's infectious energy, powerful singing and heartfelt performance. The singers returned to their school choirs with greater musicianship, new leadership skills and a passion for truly expressive singing.
How many singers auditioned this year? How big is this year's choir?
The Youth Choir auditioned 130 singers and selected 70 participants representing 11 high schools, four colleges and three universities.
Tell us about guest artist Daniel Hughes.
He is a brilliant conductor and teacher, best known as the founder of the Choral Project, an award-winning Bay Area-based group that has received international recognition and performed to standing ovations in the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, England, Scotland and Wales, receiving top prizes at international festivals. The Choral Project has released seven compact discs on the Gothic Records label.
In addition to working with the FCYC, Mr. Hughes will offer a free choral workshop Friday from 3-5 p.m. at the Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall. After the workshop, there will be a no-host dinner with Mr. Hughes to continue the conversation. The workshop will feature a lecture and demonstration of multicultural repertoire and rehearsal techniques. Anyone with an interest in choral music is welcome.
Talk a little about Mai Betterley and Aaron Bryan, this year's co-conductors.
Mai Betterley and Aaron Bryan bring a passion for polished and dramatic singing to the FCYC. As a "teaching choir," the group challenges everyone to be at the top of their game, continually working to improve their skills, whether in teaching, singing or conducting. Mai and Aaron have risen to the challenge and grown in their abilities to communicate with a wide range of singers and to really dig into the music and find the find the heart, the emotional center, of the poet and composer's work.
Do you think FCYC has had an impact on choral music in local schools?
The Youth Choir is gaining traction with local teachers and singers who see the group as an excellent extension of the great work they are already doing in the classroom. The FCYC supports their programs by offering a unique summer learning experience. Singers and teachers say that their new skills really enhance their participation in their "home" choirs, both as musicians and leaders.
What can audience members expect at the Saturday program?
The FCYC concert, "Love is ...," features an exciting and emotional program of choral music from around the world. Particularly moving are Eric Whitacre's "Five Hebrew Love Songs" and "Neslegtais Gredzens," by Latvian composer Juris Karlsons, as well as "I'll Make the Difference," a gospel favorite by the late Moses Hogan. As always, the Youth Choir presents a high-energy performance with engaging singing and expressive choreography.
Anything else you'd like to say?
Each year, the FCYC presents an award to an outstanding local choral music educator. This year the award, named for its first recipient, Roy L. Klassen, will go to James Foxx, retired Clovis High choir teacher. The Fresno County Office of Education is proud to partner with the Fresno Coin Gallery in sponsoring the Youth Choir. The Coin Gallery's generous contribution to the Foundation@FCOE has allowed the group to expand its mission in the community. The FCYC has also appreciated support from the Fresno Art Museum as our rehearsal home. The July 23 concert will benefit the Museum's educational outreach programs to disadvantaged youth.