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by Judy Antell


Back in 1992, when the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy (BYCA) began, it had only 48 students who rehearsed in an empty classroom at Brooklyn Friends School. Today, the group has flourished into four different choruses, with over 250 student singers. Last fall, it moved into its own building in Cobble Hill, with almost 6,000 square feet of rehearsal space and practice rooms. Although the chorus is Brooklyn-based, members come from all over the city. What makes them choose this group over another closer to home? BYCA is the only voice-based, after-school music school in New York City. It offers music classes ranging from music theater, to vocal jazz improvisation, to music lab (theory, ear-training, sight-singing), as well as private instruction in voice, piano and other instruments. BYCA has four divisions: Preparatory (for the youngest children, grades 2 and up, and those with no choral experience); Junior; Intermediate; and Concert Chorus. To move up a division, children must audition. Initially, BYCA had just its touring Concert Chorus; it began adding the other groups both to serve more students and to train future Concert Chorus members. But while no one who puts in the effort is turned away from the preparatory divisions, getting into a more advanced group is competitive, and the Concert Chorus is at its full capacity of 50 singers. According to Diane Berkun, BYCA’s founder and artistic director, children “progress through the training levels if they are committed and maintain good attendance.” She cautions that “promotion to the Concert Chorus is not for everyone. Only the most advanced and experienced Intermediate-level students are invited to move into that level.” Concert Chorus requires rehearsals twice weekly after school and on Saturdays, and availability for touring and local concerts. The Preparatory and Junior divisions rehearse once a week, the Intermediate once a week for a longer period. Auditions, held twice a year, focus on pitch matching and memory for younger children; singers in the more advanced groups have to demonstrate sight-reading skills and be more musically developed. Ten-year-old Julia Novack is in her second year of BYCA, and is a member of the junior choir. She had not been in a chorus before joining the group, and while she has “moved up” from the prep group, she has set her sights on the concert choir. “I’m a little bit ambitious,” she confesses. “I want to perform more.” Like many in the chorus, she takes advantage of BYCA’s other offerings, and is enrolled in both music theater and piano lessons. The Concert Chorus has performed with such prestigious groups as the New York Philharmonic, the American Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Juilliard Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Symphony. They appeared at the opening festival for Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall last September. Additionally, they participate in choral festivals and competitions throughout the United States and in Canada, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. The Concert Chorus has recorded three CDs, including the two-disc “Wonder Land”, released in December. CDs can be ordered online at www.brooklynyouthchorus.org. On May 24, BYCA is holding its annual benefit gala at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. For the second year in a row, Rosie Perez is the emcee, and the Concert Chorus will perform. For more information, call (718) 243-9447 or email info@brooklynyouthchorus.org.


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