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National Children's Choir at Carnegie Hall, May 6 2023
Photo credit: Eduardo Pestana

Kids’ Energy, Grown-Up Skills from the National Children’s Chorus at Carnegie Hall

If you’ve ever had – or been – a kid taking part in a concert at a high school or middle school that has a decent music program, you know the buzzing energy that electrifies the auditorium as parents and grandparents and little brothers and sisters take their seats. Now blow up that picture, and replace the uneven skills and talents on stage with a uniformly serious collection of musical children and teens. That same buzz, writ large, coursed through Carnegie Hall as the National Children’s Chorus (NCC) presented its “Voices of Action” concert on Saturday afternoon.

Burgeoning Talent and Skill

Three groups appeared in increasing order of age and maturity, beginning with the armada of children composing the Debut Ensemble. While the thrust of the program overall was a multicultural one, some of the younger kids’ repertoire partook of the kind of happy-message songs common to children’s choirs. Exhibit A: “Be Who You Are,” the opening piece.

That said, the directors of the NCC programs had put together a smart sequence that showed off the young singers’ already noticeable skills. That first number had a lot of cheerful unison singing; the second introduced counterpoint. Third up was a clever and fun setting of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” that dipped into modernism with interesting harmonies and motives heavy on chromatics and flatted fifths.

Altogether the choristers displayed good breath control, intonation and enunciation. If you can understand all the lyrics from a huge group like this, you know something’s going right. (One of the NCC’s best tricks is having the students in all eight regional chapters learn the same repertoire simultaneously, making a massive onstage gathering like this one possible.)

The Debut singers capped off their set with Michael Engelhardt’s “We Will Do Miracles,” another message song but a compelling one with flair and drama.

A Musical Premier League

The older kids of the equally huge Premier Ensemble had, naturally, a fuller, richer sound. Their multicultural exploration unfurled with an arrangement of a percussion-accompanied Nigerian traditional tune with shifting vocal rhythms.

The world premiere of an NCC commission, “A La Nanita Nana,” arranged by Carlos Cordero, began with a ghostly monophonic hum. Layers solemnly developed, with lovely close harmonies and tone clusters accompanied by a beautiful piano part before a fade back to the stillness of the start.

The kids then expressively and impressively sang, in Hebrew, another NCC commission, a challenging piece by Sharon Farber, mostly a capella until a drum accompanied the final section in 7/8 time.

National Children's Choir at Carnegie Hall, May 6 2023
Photo credit: Eduardo Pestana

The evening’s first soloists stepped forward during a John Rutter arrangement of the traditional English “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” a fleet-footed minuet that closed the Premier Ensemble’s set on a high.

Adult Voices Emerge

Finally, the Scholars, a smaller but still substantial ensemble, filed onto the Carnegie Hall stage. These older teens include those whose voices have changed, so they brought full SATB strength to their set. Like an accomplished adult choir, they displayed subtle dynamics and tonal control from the start, delivering a captivating performance of the mesmerizing and none-too-easy “Northern Lights” by Ola Gjeilo.

Another highlight was the Hindi piece “Diya Jalein” by Gaayatri Kaundinya, a really interesting number with multiple harmonic layers. The composer herself was on stage, part of a trio of musicians accompanying on Indian instruments. (They also provided transition music as the different choirs filed off and on – a nice touch during those lengthy marches!)

Andrea Nalywajko was the fine soprano soloist in an arrangement of another English traditional song, “Lully, Lulla, Lullay,” built on beautiful flowing harmonies. The Romantic flavor of “Glow” by Eric Whitacre gave the kids a chance to show their expressive maturity, and their adult power and confidence shone in the final selection, Handel’s “Hallelujah, Amen” from Judas Maccabaeus.

The audience enthusiasm seemed to energize the young singers, who though maintaining wholly professional order seemed clearly jazzed. With the support of fine piano accompanists and string players as well as the Indian musicians, they proved the NCC a well-tended, fertile flowerbed where a future A-list of adult choristers is growing.

For more on the National Children’s Chorus see its website and our recent interview with Artistic Director Luke McEndarfer.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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