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August 11, 2023

"What can YOU do to help our singers grow?"

I asked our MasterSinger Interns this question a few weeks ago. Every year, a select few of our oldest singers volunteer at our Summer Sing camp. I train them during the week before camp to prepare them as leaders and facilitators.

It's one of my favorite days of the year: we invite these singers to think like teachers, to understand how to create a good learning environment, and to contemplate how they can direct singers' energy in a positive, productive direction. Our board vice chair, Jeanette Fotis, even taught them how to facilitate improvisational group games, so that they could lead those activities at camp.

I prompted them further:

How did you feel when you first joined BYC?

Why have you stayed all these years?

How do you want our campers to feel at camp?

What can YOU do to help them grow?"

Dear reader, what do you think they said?

As you might imagine, these dedicated, talented, musical BYC-ers didn't mention the music at all. They didn't focus on the importance of rhythmic precision or stage etiquette. While they have expressed their fervent devotion to those principles in the past, their answers revealed other priorities.

They wanted our campers to feel safe. They wanted them to have fun, to feel comfortable to meet new faces, and to feel seen and heard. They wanted to comfort campers who felt lonely and kindly encourage focus from singers who were distracted.

They wanted them to love singing together—and to know that they mattered.

These answers are simple. But they exemplify the importance of this community. Singing is the perfect vehicle to welcome the outsider, provide a sense of belonging, and create memories that last.

Our MasterSingers embody what BYC means. They get to reap the harvest of what we sow. And now, they get to set the tone for our younger singers' growth.

At Summer Sing, those MasterSingers jumped right in. They did all they could to make our camp an inviting, safe, welcoming space. Each of them welcomed new singers with a smile, reached out to shy campers, prepared materials and spaces for the next activity, and facilitated activities with kindness and grace.

We always end our camp with one of my favorite traditions: the Gratitude Web. Each camper in the circle takes turns expressing gratitude to another singer, passing a ball of yarn with each compliment. The yarn eventually unwinds into a web, a chain of kindness—and the campers tie a piece of the yarn to their wrists, to take that kindness with them after camp.

The words of gratitude were especially earnest this year. These young campers expressed sincere thanks to each other—for how they were greeted, for the fun they had together, and for the sense of belonging that they gave each other.

I have no doubt that our MasterSinger Interns, alongside our talented and dedicated staff and volunteers, created the space for those warm feelings.

As our 32nd year kicks off, we are offering more opportunities for our singers. This year features new performance opportunities, a trip to Philadelphia, visits from award-winning guest artists, and more. No two years are the same, as we continuously try to offer more for our singers.

With all of these developments, BYC can rest assured that our core values remain strong as ever. If we have these thoughtful singers and our greater community that supports them, we have everything we need.

May 3, 2023

As a choral director, I enter every rehearsal with so many goals.

Of course we need to manage our time well, rehearsing each piece of our repertoire, learning notes, and building vocal technique and ensemble skills as we go.

But I also want our kids to leave our doors feeling a certain way.

Did they feel successful? Were we an escape from something that they were worried about? Did we make their week better?

Did they feel included, like they belong? Did they make a friend? Did they laugh? Did they discover something new?

Naturally, every singer has their own experience. But what I always notice is how these singers make me feel.

This week, during our final rehearsals, each ensemble gave me a different feeling as I left our doors.

Our Choristers made me laugh: we challenged them to practice standing still on the risers, and those 8- and 9-year-olds tried their very best. The effort it took to keep their arms at their sides was truly Herculean, and that struggle was written all over their faces.

The Chorale was stunning. Their three-part harmonies locked in, and the range of their dynamics gave us goosebumps. I have seen many adult choirs struggle to achieve their level of expressiveness, and there are 10-year-olds in this group!

Our MasterSingers made me so proud. They always do. They tackle such challenging music, think so deeply, and aim for perfection (which, you guessed it, isn't real in the world of music). These are traits all of us want in our leaders—my main job is to remind them to appreciate the journey, as lofty as their goals are.

Laughter, goosebumps, and leadership. All in a day's work for BYC. I'm just lucky enough to witness it.

Sam Barge

June 6, 2023

We recently asked Barrett, a 9-year-old Chorister who just completed his first year of BYC, what makes BYC special to him:

"Who could have ever come up with this?!

It’s so brilliant and so fun! It's a spot where we can all show who we are."

I love Barrett's enthusiasm.

Alas, BYC didn't 'come up' with singing itself, but we are proud of all the ways it enables our young singers to grow—not just as musicians, but as leaders and as people.

At our spring concert last month, that growth was on full display. Nervous expressions of stage fright transformed into grins of pride for a job well done. Countless singers smiled simply at the joy they had found in harmonizing with each other. And our audience embraced our singers with warm recognition of the time and effort it took for them to be successful that day.

Concerts are a mere glimpse of our singers’ experiences. Each week, our singers blend their unique voices, tune notes they didn’t know they could sing, and discover how their part fits within the whole. That mixture of discovery, teamwork and harmony is what makes BYC what it is. Beautiful music is the vehicle that allows our singers to grow together.

"It’s definitely a place where you can really be yourself. I've made so many amazing friendships that are definitely going to last a lifetime."

Sophie Strick, Chorale

"Berks Youth Chorus is amazing, and it’s a program that cares about its singers year-round. It's a a family that cares about our causes, our craft as singers, and it encourages young kids. And they welcome everyone."

Ellyssa Elliott, graduating MasterSinger/new BYC alumna

We ended our year with a picnic. Our singers and staff wrote notes of gratitude to each other for a year well done. I saw multiple new singers refer to each other as “BFF”s. Many singers, siblings and parents sang karaoke—and quite a few MasterSingers playfully jumped in as backup dancers.

The season of change has arrived. Our seniors are off to their next chapters, and new singers will join our community in the coming year.

Meanwhile, we're planning for the year ahead. Just as no two performances are the same, each new year of BYC is a variation on what came before. We reflect on our successes and pitfalls, and we constantly search for new ways to improve our singers' experiences.

Every step of the way, we’re thankful for our singers, our supporters and every person who has propelled BYC forward.

All of us at BYC wish you a summer of reflection and new beginnings.

Until we meet again,

Sam Barge

Executive & Artistic Director

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