HARTFORD – The music ministry at the Cathedral of St. Joseph was highly regarded even before the Archdiocesan Youth Choir (AYC) came into existence in 2012. It already had featured the Cathedral Choir, the Soli Deo Gloria Orchestra, volunteer instrumentalists, visiting choirs, the Sacred Sounds concert series, an 8,000-pipe Austin organ and more. But for music director Ezequiel Menéndez, something was missing.
“We always wanted to have a youth choir that would sing in a serious way, not just to have kids being cute but singing serious music, like cathedrals in other states are doing,” Dr. Menéndez said. As he traveled around the country attending music conventions, he was able to study firsthand youth choirs in Utah; Cambridge, Mass.; and other areas.
He established the youth choir in September of 2012 and installed renowned music teacher Brian Gedicks as its choirmaster.
The choir is open to young people 7 to 18 years old who pass an audition and express a deep desire and commitment to learn and to attend rehearsals and scheduled events.
“The kids come here [St. Joseph Cathedral] from 9 a.m. to 12 [noon] on Sundays. You know, youth today are very busy, so it was very difficult to get kids to come to Hartford during the week,” Dr. Menéndez said. They rehearse from 9 to 10:45 and then take part in the liturgy, singing hymns, antiphons, the Agnus Dei and more. For their time, talent and commitment, they receive a small stipend.
“The goal,” Mr. Gedicks said, “is to show what’s possible with young people and the sacred music tradition of the church, to enhance the liturgy and hopefully to serve as inspiration.”
The choir includes four boys and nine girls, he said. In an email, he added, “The goal is to build up the choir program to a membership of 30-35, consisting of a training choir, a choir for boys with changed voices, and a combined mixed voice choir, that sings at all of the major liturgies of the archdiocese and at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, as well as in local parishes.”
Gregorian Chant will be the foundation of AYC’s repertoire, he wrote, adding, “The repertoire also includes hymns and anthems and other types of Sacred Music. Entering our third year, the choir [has] already learned much of the great chants and hymns integral to the liturgy of the Church. Going forward, the choir is looking forward to learning more advanced polyphonic repertoire that is based on these foundational chants and hymns.”
In a phone conversation, he said, “The choir is not necessarily for everyone, but if there’s a family or some young people who really want to explore their voice and learn the music of the church and want to join in the singing in a very high-quality choir, it’s a great opportunity.”
He stressed that not everyone who auditions will automatically be accepted. “We’re not taking just anybody. They have to be the right person,” he said. “Right now, we have an excellent group, 13 singers, a really great sound together. We worked a lot on matching our vowels and balancing and blending the voices, so that we have a beautiful unison sound. That’s a high priority for my work with the choirs, to really work with that sound, to cultivate that sound, by really listening to how each individual voice is different – a different color, different texture, different shading – and how important it is to blend all those voices together in a certain way that sort of builds up the sound and enhances the sound and multiplies the sound.”
The choir includes singers from parishes in West Hartford, Glastonbury, Waterbury and Avon.
Private auditions for new members begin in August. “They are very short, maybe 10 minutes. It’s great if they have songs prepared,” Mr. Gedicks said. The songs need not be complicated, because they are mainly so he can hear the quality of the voices.
To learn more or to schedule an audition, contact: Cathedral of St. Joseph, Office of Music Ministries at 860-578-1433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.