Music is a big part of the holidays, and there’s nothing more beautiful than children singing carols. The Pittsburgh Youth Chorus is our region’s most prestigious youth choral group. They have been around for 33 years — started at the request of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when they needed children’s voices for the Mahler Symphony. After that, the children wanted to keep singing, so the chorus just kept growing. With 130 young singers in the main chorus now, plus a satellite chorus and neighborhood chorus programs, it’s become a well-respected music education program.
The Pittsburgh Youth Chorus just performed its holiday concert Sunday afternoon at the majestic East Liberty Presbyterian Church in the city of Pittsburgh. Their voices sound angelic, but it is not just because they are children. It is because of the professional training they get in the program.
“I just like the fact that you can share this ‘beautifulness’ with more than just the chorus and with other people and make their day,” says 13-year-old choruster, Rohan Puri.
The children practice for 2 hours at a time, once a week, at Duquesne University, under the music direction of Shawn Funk. “The purpose is to give kids a musical experience of high caliber,” Funk says. “It’s not to create all opera singers, pop singers or jazz singers,” he adds. “It’s to open the doors. Plant seeds for them.”
The children in the program go from basic to advanced — moving up through the different levels and learning to sing as a team. The kids themselves recognize that they get a lot more than music education.
Cecily Marsh has made friends. “It’s great, especially being homeschooled,” she says. “I don’t meet as many friends as people who go to school, so it’s nice to have another opportunity to make friends.”
It is also an opportunity to learn to sing in front of an audience. Anyssa Keeling-Oliver is overcoming her fears. “I like performing even though I get nervous,” she says. “When I go up stage and see my parents waving to me, it gets rid of some of (the nervousness).”
The Pittsburgh Youth Chorus has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Opera and in festivals in Washington, D.C. and Chautauqua.
This July, forty of them are traveling all the way to London to perform in a festival. “I think it will be really fun, especially since I’ve never been on a plane before,” Keeling-Oliver says.
The Pittsburgh Youth Chorus is holding auditions this Monday, December 12th at Duquesne University. Children 3rd- 6th grade can come and see if they are a fit for the chorus. Children do not need a song prepared. The auditions are in groups, much like a rehearsal. There is also a newer satellite chorus in Grove City which is holding auditions on Wednesday.
And for kids from 1st- 3rd grades, there are neighborhood training programs that require no audition. Registration is open for that.
There is also tuition assistance for people who cannot afford the fees.