January 1, 2020

Tourists at the White House Hear Concert by Local Teens

PERFORMING AT THE WHITE HOUSE: Members of two local youth choirs, Vox Amicus and the Trenton Children’s Chorus, joined forces to sing for groups touring the residence in Washington, D.C. last month.

By Anne Levin

For the young singers who make up the Vox Amicus choir and the Trenton Children’s Chorus, performing at the White House is nothing new. Both ensembles have visited the presidential residence during past winter holiday seasons. But the trip the two groups made to Washington on December 20 marked the first time they had sung at the White House together.

Vox Amicus (which translates to “choir of friends”) is made up of high school students who, when younger, were members of a choir at Westminster Conservatory. The group from Trenton Children’s Chorus, also composed of high school students, is one of several choirs at the Trenton-based nonprofit.

“Going to the White House is always a wonderful experience, and this time with both choirs was very special,” said Patricia Thel, who conducts both groups. “The children, who are walked through the building, get to see all of the portraits of the presidents over the years, and there is a lot of history.”

The recent visit marked the eighth time the Westminster Conservatory group had visited the White House, and the second time for the Trenton Children’s Chorus. During their last visit, the Trenton group met with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

This is the first year that Westminster Conservatory has had a vocal ensemble for high school students. “I had been running the choir there for children in grades K-8,” said Thel. “My former students who were now in high school had kept up their friendships, and they wanted to start a high school choir. I told them they’d have to get it together, and they did. I sent out one email, and 22 kids signed up. They even came up with their own name.”

Having the two choirs sing together at the White House made sense. They performed in the East Room for two sessions of 45 minutes each. Invited guests, a group made up mostly of military families, were touring the building and were invited to hear the concerts. Thel organized the program to include familiar carols. “You’re trying to entertain people, really,” she said. “I try not to give things that are too obscure or esoteric.”

Having visited during the Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations, Thel has become a seasoned observer of how the holidays are done at the White House. “It’s always interesting to me to see how differently each administration decorates,” she said. “During the Clinton administration, I remember handmade wreaths and ornaments from all over the world. During the time of (George W.) Bush, there were these two huge, Broadway-scale nutcrackers on display.”

Most of the students in the two choirs come from Princeton and Trenton; others live in Cranbury, Freehold, Hightstown, Lawrenceville, Stockton, and surrounding areas. The trip was the first of several collaborative projects for the two choirs. The group is scheduled to sing the national anthem at a Princeton University basketball game this month.

“Working together is special and we plan to do more of it,” said Thel. “This trip to the White House was a great way to start.”