Making a Joyful Noise
Spring is the time of rebirth, of young creatures and hope for the future. And what could be more spring-like than a chorus of young voices raised in celebration of the season.
In the spirit of that season, Chorus Angelicus, a children’s chorus begun in 1989 by Grammy Award-winning composer and keyboardist Paul Halley, will present its Spring Concert Tuesday, April 1, 4-6 PM at Trinity Episcopal Church, 220 Prospect Street in Torrington.
The concert will consist of “choral miniatures,” according to Artistic Director Gabriel Löfvall, little choral pieces with the leitmotif of animals. “The music will be quite eclectic,” he promised.
Löfvall said there are several ways he plans music for such a concert. In addition, to pieces he knows personally and enjoys, he watches closely to see what others are performing.
“I love to follow other musicians’ concerts,” he said. “I take a pencil and circle the pieces I would like to do myself. And, in this day and age, with the Internet it’s so easy to peek into churches and see what music they are performing. I keep a Google document open to jot it down.”
“The Spring Concert will involve all the children,” Löfvall continued. “We have four tiers of singers, ranging from Angels in Training to Advanced Angels, Juniors—these are middle school students—and Seniors, which roughly covers the high school years. Sometimes we have a talented middle school student who might sing with the seniors or do solos and sometimes young graduates come back from college to help.”
April 1 is not the only time this spring the children will sing in the region. On April 22, the group will perform with the Farmington Valley Chorale in Simsbury and West Hartford. “The Chorale is performing a large piece by Cecilia McDowell, “Darkness into Light,” which is about the triumph and resilience of human nature,” Löfvall said. “Nujeen Mustafa was a 16-year-old Syrian girl who was wheelchair bound because of cerebral palsy. She became a refugee when war broke out in her country and traveling in her wheelchair some 3,500 miles from Syria to Germany, accompanied by her sister.”
“They required children’s voices, and they came to us,” Löfvall continued. “It is such a priceless experience. Music forces us to ask questions and be in touch with social justice issues.
The children will go on from that to sing the National Anthem in May at Dunkin’ Donuts Stadium at the opening of the Yard Goats season. With all that accomplished, they will undertake a nine-day tour of Ireland at the end of June, performing in Galway, Dublin and County Cork. “That is another aspect of Chorus Angelicus,” said Löfvall. “We travel, usually making international tours. I’m really excited about Ireland—it is so beautiful and so many of our singers are of Irish descent. We have an alumna, Georgia Johnson, who lives in Ireland, who will join us Dublin. She grew up with the group and is sending us a piece to perform on the tour.”
So who are these children who are immersed in this world of cultural wonders? According to Löfvall, most of the children are drawn from Torrington and the towns immediately around it. “Right now, we have one or two from Avon or Canton,” he said, “and we occasionally get someone from as far away as Salisbury. Ideally we love it when they come in when they are young enough to be in the Angel program. Then if they stay through middle and high school, they become beautiful choristers and their families become true allies, helping us. We try to hone that, encouraging children to join early but right now we are getting a lot of middle schoolers from Harwinton.”
He explained that Andrew Skinner, who works with the middle schoolers, works in Harwinton’s Middle School and recruits from among his students.
“We are very proud that some of our alums have gone on to be composers, opera singers and in musical theater,” Löfvall said. “One is currently entertaining on a cruise of Alaska. If they stay local, some of them join Gaudeamus (the adult group that performs with Chorus Angelicus and independently) We try to stay in touch with what they are doing.”
Löfvall said that the pandemic took a toll both on choir recruits and attendance at concerts. “Choruses are struggling after the pandemic and they need help,” he said, “It’s not as easy to recruit and people have changed the way they live. Our Christmas concerts are livestreamed and many prefer to watch from home rather than come out.”
“Right now, we have about 30 kids,” said Program Administrator Bethany Lee. “Our numbers are finally increasing but we have had really low enrollment because of the pandemic.”
She said that Chorus Angelicus has a demanding schedule of rehearsals and performances as well as a choir camp, held this year at White Memorial. “It’s a big commitment, and I try to tell parents that when they are signing up. It’s not a pass-through choir and it becomes more and more as the kids grow older. Not only are there two weekly rehearsals but there are concerts and the camp. It has to take priority.”
It is work but it is also fun. At camp, the youngsters take part in community-building activities as well as rehearsals, practicing putting their robes on, getting their choir binder and performing skits. “Hopefully, it fosters lifelong relationships,” Lee said.
“If a child loves to sing, this is a great training program,” she concluded. “Our mission statement says we’re committed to musical excellence. Our artistic director is really committed to excellence and shows in the performances.”