This article was submitted to Patch by Dr. Rebecca R. Lord, director of outreach and associate director of choral activities department of music, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
“Joy to the World” became a visceral reality for 20 young singers from Venice High School on Saturday, December 8, as they came together with 207 UCLA musicians to entertain more than a thousand concertgoers filling UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall for two performances.
The concerts were the culmination of ten weeks of intensive rehearsal for the high-school singers, under the baton of Dr. Rebecca Lord, Director of Choral Outreach and Associate Director of Choral Activities at UCLA. They grew out of the University’s Choral Outreach Program, established last year with the mission of “bringing the art of singing into the lives of students in a manner that is truly life-impacting.” Dr. Lord worked with the young singers weekly at Venice High School since early in the school year, and they traveled to the UCLA campus in the days preceding the performances to join with their fellow musicians – 183 members of the UCLA Chorale and University Chorus and the University’s 24-member Wind Ensemble – in final preparation for the event. As part of the UCLA choral program’s annual holiday concert, the combined choirs and instrumental ensemble performed both “Joy to the World” and “Adeste Fideles.”
The collaboration’s success in fulfilling the outreach program’s mission can be seen in the responses of the Venice High School singers to the experience. “I feel like a better version of myself as a musician,” said soprano Melissa Eudave. “I am empowered when I perform with UCLA.”
Others were similarly positive in their expressions, which ranged from “it proved to me that whether it’s music, art, English, math or any other subject there’s always a way to achieve what we want” (soprano Lisset Mendez), to “singing makes me feel more alive” (tenor Jordan Levine), to the following assessment by bass Tae Hoon Kim: “It’s taught me patience. It has also taught me discipline. This experience has made me want to pursue the arts. I loved every second of it.”
As has occurred with Venice High School, the UCLA Choral Outreach Program serves middle and high school students around the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area through clinics, master classes, rehearsals and performances that give them professional instruction and mentoring by the University’s highly rated choral program and faculty, at no charge to the students or their schools. “There is no greater gift that one can give to society than to invest in its children,” explains Professor Donald Neuen, Director of Choral Activities at UCLA. “The gift that is being given to these children will last a lifetime, and their lives in fact are being changed."
In its inaugural year, the Choral Outreach Program served approximately 3,000 students and more than 20 schools. The program gained national recognition as the recipient of a 2012 Zipcar & Ford Motors national grand prize for its community service and has been featured in such national publications as Businessweek, Daily Market, Market Watch, Legal News and on Yahoo.
“Dr. Rebecca gave of her heart, her time, her life—to be with us,” said Mrs. Wendy Kornbeck, chairperson of the Venice High School Music Department and director of the school’s choir, the Allegros. “We sing better, we stand taller. We don’t just sing—we say something. Listen to them after the final curtain call, in their whispers and their Facebook pages.”
“It was inspiring, fun, exciting,” Dr. Lord said of her experience collaborating with Mrs. Kornbeck and the Allegros. “While it takes an enormous amount of work to get everyone to a professional level, the experience was entirely positive because of the way Wendy runs her classroom and the great attitudes of her students. Their growth was tremendous. On stage they became one united team; the Venice High School students were no different from the UCLA students. They were smiling, the energy was exploding off the stage, and they knew they were doing a great job. For me as an educator, it was incredibly fulfilling.”
The Outreach Program is at a crossroads, according to Dr. Lord. “The ability to continue to deliver such experiences at no cost to budget-strapped area schools is dependent on the continuing generosity of those whose concern for the future of our youth is matched by their love of music and their recognition of its importance to future generations,” she said. “All of us who have felt the benefit of that generosity are deeply grateful, but the funding received to date will sustain the program only through March 2013.”
For now, at least, the outreach continues, with Dr. Lord expressing optimism that it will bring “Joy to the World” for young singers throughout Los Angeles for many years to come.