The Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus has never been busier.
The Grand Rapids Symphony, the largest performing arts organization in West Michigan and the second largest in the Great Lake States, gives thanks this season for the 224 young singers in the choral organization led by Sean Ivory and Jackie Sonderfan Schoon.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this season, the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus performs four times this November and December, twice with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall.
In just nine years, the Symphony’s newest affiliate organization has become an indispensable and integral part of the Grand Rapids Symphony. Its members have joined the orchestra for music including Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which helped launch the organization in 2007, and for events such as LiveArts, a multimedia, multi-genre extravaganza that filled the Van Andel Arena to capacity in April 2015.
“Being able to give kids the opportunity to work on larger choral works with orchestra, or on our own smaller projects, makes it all worthwhile,” said Ivory, founder and current director of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony Chorus as well as vocal music instructor at Forest Hills Central High School in Ada. “And it helps them develop an appetite for live symphonic music, which I think is vitally important to the art form.”
Part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Gateway to Music, a network of 17 access points for people of all ages to engage with orchestral music, the GRSYC’s three choirs, plus a select ensemble, form a graded, tuition-based program that maintains a tradition of choral excellence for young singers in West Michigan. The Youth Chorus, under Sean Ivory, currently has 115 singers.
Two training choirs, the Prelude Chorus, numbering 42 singers, and Junior Youth Chorus, with 67 young musicians, are directed by Jackie Sonderfan Schoon.
Following its own fall concert on Nov. 3, GRSYC singers joined with the Grand Rapids Symphony for its performance of The Snowman on Nov. 11 in DeVos Hall, part of the 2017-18 DTE Energy Foundation Family Series. Members of its select ensemble, Mandala, performed Howard Blake’s haunting song “Walking in the Air,” which helped make the animated short famous.
The entire choral program gives its own Holiday Concert in the Basilica of St. Adalbert on Sunday, Dec. 10 with performances at 4:30 p.m. and at 7 p.m. The Prelude Chorus only performs at the afternoon program.
The Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus will return to DeVos Hall with the Grand Rapids Symphony for five performances of the popular Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, Dec. 14-17.
In addition to performances at home, singers in the program have toured nationally and internationally. The GRSYC traveled to Trinidad in April 2016 and will journey to Iceland next year. Earlier this year in March, the Junior Youth Chorus was one of several choruses from across the country that premiered Dan Forrest's Jubilate Deo in New York City’s Carnegie Hall with eminent youth choir director Henry Leck as guest conductor.
“These are works and events the singers remember fondly for years,” said Ivory, who also is principal conductor of the Calvin College Oratorio Society and an adjunct professor at Calvin College.
Singers who have graduated from the program include Elisabeth Keen, who studied international development at Calvin College and now lives in Perth, Australia, where she works with Youth With A Mission. Another graduate, Rebecca DeBoer, currently is a student at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. In addition to pursuing environmental studies, she sings in the famous St. Olaf Choir led by Anton Armstrong, a former professor of music at Calvin College as well as director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in the 1980s.
“My hope is that the high level of artistry we expect from members of the GRSYC will translate into a lifetime of appreciation, if not continued participation, in a choral group or live orchestra concerts,” said Ivory.