Music is in the Air at Westrick Music Academy as Voices of Princeton Girlchoir and Boychoir Soar
SONGS OF THE SEASON: Led by Princeton Boychoir Director Fred Meads, Westrick Music Academy’s Princeton Boychoir performed their “Holiday Harmonies” special concert at All Saints’ Chapel in Princeton this past Sunday.
By Jean Stratton
“It’s like the sun and the moon and the stars — it is everything. It opened up worlds for me.”
This is what music has meant to one performer of choral music, whose career started in Princeton.
And the joy of music is not limited to the performer. It is a shared experience with the listeners, creating a moment that can be inspirational.
How special it is when these experiences can be brought to young children.
The Westrick Music Academy enables such experiences. A unique organization consisting of the Princeton Girlchoir and the Princeton Boychoir, it offers young students both musical education and performance opportunities.
Headquartered at 231 Clarksville Road in West Windsor, it is a nonprofit organization operated by Executive Director Hilary Butler and a board of directors, focusing on the pursuit of musical excellence.
Named for Janet Westrick, the founder of the Princeton Girlchoir in 1989, it has grown into a significant musical enterprise, adding the Princeton Boychoir in 2017.
“Our students are from 52 towns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and from 125 different schools in the Princeton area and beyond,” points out Carolyn Sienicki, Westrick’s director of communications. “There are six ensembles in the Girlchoir and three in the Boychoir, including singers from the third through 12th grades. We also have a Poco Voce (‘little voice’ in Italian) program for first and second graders, where they begin to learn musical basics.”
The first step in becoming a member of one of the choirs is the audition. If successful, the new chorister is assigned to a choir and ensemble. Singers are placed by ability, matching each student with the choir that best suits their vocal and musical ability. Age is also a factor, but the stage of musical development is foremost.
Ensembles in the Girlchoir include Grace Notes (third through fifth grade), Eighth Notes (grades fourth through sixth), Quarter Notes (fifth through seventh grade), Semi-Tones (sixth through ninth), Concert Choir (seventh through 10th), Cantores (10th through 12th), and Ensemble (a select chamber group of mostly high school aged girls).
The Boychoir offers three ensembles: Apprentice Choir, a beginning choir of unchanged male voices (generally third though sixth grade); Treble Choir, an advanced intermediate choir of unchanged male voices (generally fifth through ninth grade); and Young Men’s Ensemble, an advanced choir of changed male voices (generally eighth through 12th grade).
Currently, the Girlchoir numbers 215 members and the Boychoir includes 60 members. Rehearsals and classes are held September through May once a week in the evening for one hour to an hour and a half. A two-week summer camp in August is also available.
“At the Academy, the students learn so much,” says Sienicki. “Our mission is to help them find their voice musically and as individuals, and develop confidence. They learn to read music, sing together, and collaborate with others to create something greater than themselves. I have noticed how passionate, how serious, and how dedicated the students are. Also, there is a well-researched and proven connection between learning music and improved academic performance.”
Both the Girlchoir and Boychoir have performed in a wide array of venues for audiences, both nationally and internationally. Performances have taken place at Rutgers University in New Brunswick; in Princeton; in Portugal, Prague, Spain, Vienna, and Montreal; and at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“SPOOKY” SPECIALTIES: The Eighth Notes and Quarter Notes ensembles of the Princeton Girlchoir lent their voices to the Halloween “Spooktacular” concert at Princeton’s Nassau Presbyterian Church last October.
“The choirs give seven annual performances, including the ‘Children Making a Difference’ benefit concert, where choristers raise funds in lieu of tickets for a cause they choose. We often collaborate with other choirs in the U.S. and abroad,” adds Sienicki. “It’s a wonderful collaborative learning experience.
“Also, last year, the Boychoir sang on the NBC TV show Christmas in the City with Michael Bublé. This year, the Girlchoir will perform in The Nutcracker in conjunction with American Repertory Ballet at the State Theatre in New Brunswick December 16, 17, and 18.”
“We have a lot of exciting upcoming events,” she continues. “On December 22, our advanced Princeton Girlchoir and Princeton Boychoir ensembles will sing holiday carols at the Princeton Arts Council’s Artist Chalets in Hinds Plaza at the Princeton Public Library. Our advanced Girlchoir will perform with the professional Glassbrook Vocal Ensemble on Sunday, December 18 at Princeton Theological Seminary Chapel.
“All six Girlchoir ensembles will perform the annual ‘United in Song’ event January 29th at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton. In April, we will host a music festival where interested children can spend a day with us, and experience what it is like to sing with us.
“Both Princeton Girlchoir and Princeton Boychoir will perform at Carnegie Hall in June. You can follow our events page on our website for more details.”
The choirs present music from a wide array of genres, conductors, and composers, explains Sienicki. Notable performances include the North American premier of Tan Dun’s Symphony 1997 with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Lincoln Center.
“We also commission music,” reports Sienicki. “Professor Rollo Dilworth of Temple University composed ‘Ev’rything’s Gonna Be Alright’ for the fifth anniversary of Princeton Boychoir, debuted internationally in Vienna and Prague, and Ryan Brechmacher composed ‘One Small Voice’ for Princeton Girlchoir, which was debuted at the recent ‘Children Making a Difference’ concert.”
The Academy is supported by tuition from the students, performance tickets, donations from individuals and organizations, and grants from foundations. Scholarships and financial assistance are available for students because, as Sienicki says, “We believe music is for everyone. Many children can come here and find a home. Also, the parents and grandparents are very supportive. We have a family association, and they help run the events.”
Sienicki strongly believes in Westrick’s mission, which is “to provide opportunities to grow through the pursuit of musical excellence in a supportive, collaborative, and joyous environment for youth choristers and musicians of all ages in the central New Jersey and Bucks County communities … enabling individuals to find their voice through the power of music.”
“I enjoy the people here so much,” Sienicki says. “Hilary Butler, our executive director; Artistic Director Dr. Lynnel Joy Jenkins; Westrick Education Director and Boychoir Musical Director Fred Meads; all the associate music directors; and our hardworking staff are all outstanding. This is a warm, welcoming community for creative people.
“Also, we took a lot of pride in how we kept going through COVID. We did not close. We rehearsed and performed virtually. We were able to open again in 2021, taking all the safety precautions, and now we are back to a full, in-person season. Everyone is so happy to be back home again here on site.”
Sienicki is also very proud of the Academy’s continued growth. “We currently have ongoing auditions for all ages, and we look forward to growing even further. And, of course, we welcome donations from everyone, which in turn enables us to offer scholarships and financial assistance.”
“It is exciting to be part of Westrick Music Academy,” she continues. “A place where students receive the best musical training, performance opportunities, a chance to develop one’s confidence and voice, and forge bonds of friendship through shared musical experience. We are giving a child the gift of music that can last a lifetime.”
For further information, call (609) 688-1888. Website: westrickmusic.org.