In June 2017, members of the Winston-Salem Youth Chorus shared the life-changing experience of singing in New York City’s historic Carnegie Hall with their Artistic Director, Dr. Sonja Sepulveda, who knows the prestigious venue well.
“I was asked to be the conductor in residence for Carnegie,” explains Dr. Sepulveda, who joined this talented group in 2015. “I wanted to bring my choir so they could sing wonderful music with a professional orchestra.”
While being slightly smitten with the ambiance of Carnegie Hall (and yes, knowing the Beatles had once played there!), the group toured New York City for five days. Besides intense rehearsals, their itinerary included seeing the beloved Broadway show, Aladdin, and the excitement of meeting the cast backstage. While feeling the unmistakable heartbeat of this dynamic city, their experience instilled the favorite motto of their leader: “If you can dream it, you can make it happen if you never give up!
“The singers could not believe they were doing this!” smiles Dr. Sepulveda. “It put a personal twist on the cast for them—they could see the person behind the character, and it also showed them you have to try and try, and you might just get to Broadway. The personal stories of success that they heard were very inspiring!”
Many of the Winston-Salem students have already decided to audition when they get older, having seen that the people on stage were much like them: talented, driven, and passionate. Also while in New York City, the group performed a concert at Saint John the Divine, with 60 singers made up of members of the WSYC, the Palmetto Singers, and several students from Salem College. The Carnegie Hall concert, conducted by Dr. Sepulveda, featured about 200 singers including WSYC members and three adult choirs, performing the Rutter Requiem, and accompanied by the New England Symphonic Ensemble.
“Singing with older singers gives the youth choir role models for behavior and for choral singing,” says their vivacious leader. “It teaches good behavior and professionalism—a slingshot up the ladder to understanding and knowledge!”
While the true beauty of the chorus is that it allows young people to find their place and their identity as individuals, music also opens doors for friends, explains Dr. Sepulveda, describing how young musicians learn life lessons while reaching out to others.
“Everyone in the choir loves music, and that is a great feeling to be in a group where everyone understands that feeling,” she says, also knowing the feeling of belonging to a family of musicians. In addition to her role with the WSYC, Dr. Sepulveda is also the Director of Choral Activities and a teacher of Theory at Salem College in Winston-Salem and conducts the Salem Chamber Choir, Chorale, and SuperTonix.
The group’s mission has always been to reach youth from diverse backgrounds and enrich their lives by inspiring excellence in what they love most—music. Now their excitement and enthusiasm turn to the start of a promising new year with the chorus, and Dr. Sepulveda looks forward to helping the newer members and encouraging the older singers towards new heights. They kicked off the 2017-2018 school year with 70 members, ranging in age from eight to 18, third grade through 12th grade. Four different ensembles make up the total chorus, which includes the Residential Ensemble, Touring Ensemble, Young Women’s Ensemble, and Young Men’s Ensemble. Though they may hail from varied walks of life, they share the very powerful bond of their passionate love for music.
“By Christmas, everyone will have reached the same higher plane of understanding, and the beauty of the music will have a chance to shine. Music is freedom!” says the very proud Dr. Sepulveda.
During the year the chorus will perform with the Winston-Salem Symphony and UNC School of the Arts and is excited to be collaborating with The Enrichment Center for both winter and spring concerts. Some of the center’s Special Needs adult members will sing along with WSYC ensembles on several numbers, offering a wonderful teaching opportunity for diversity and inclusion. This is a shining example of how the group forms bonds across all humanity, engaging new friends along the way, and exploring their own selves through the love and language of music.
For more information on the Winston-Salem Youth Chorus, visit them at wsyouthchorus.org or 502 N. Broad Street in Winston-Salem, 336-703-0001. Auditions are typically held in May or August for each new season, while another round of auditions in December allows students to join the group midseason in January.
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