From Baroque to Folk: NYSSSA choral students return Sunday

Even at Chautauqua Institution, 63 singing teenagers is an uncommon sight.

The New York State Summer School of the Arts’ School of Choral Studies is bringing in its students for the school’s annual performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

The NYSSSA School of Choral Studies is a four-week summer program at SUNY Fredonia. The students visit Chautauqua twice a summer for opera dress rehearsals and their performance.

“Every year, the students love performing at Chautauqua … [and] the environment of Chautauqua and the history of it,” said Jared Berry, assistant director for administration for NYSSSA School of Choral Studies.

The students will perform together and split into a men’s and women’s chorus. They will present a variety of secular and religious pieces in four different languages — French, German, Latin and English. These include “Psalm 117: Laudate Jehovam” by the Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann, “The Seal Lullaby” by contemporary composer Eric Whitacre, and “Tambur,” a Hungarian dancing song by Lajos Bárdos.

Hugh Floyd, NYSSSA School of Choral Studies’ artistic director, is particularly looking forward to performing “Quicksand Years,” by René Clausen, which uses poetry from Walt Whitman.

“One of the things I like to do is have great poetry with great music,” Floyd said.

The high school students then memorize not only the tunes, but also what Floyd describes as life-changing words.

The students from all over the state audition for the program.

“Some of them are local Fredonia students,” Berry said. “But some are from New York City, Long Island — so a wide demographic.”

Floyd looks for singers with beautiful, tight singing and the ability to read music. Once they have 20 of each vocal range, they close off the applications, so the program is competitive.

“This is a really gifted group of high schools students from around the state,” Floyd said. “I’m really proud of them, because they are choosing to spend their summer on their art form.”

Chautauqua and the NYSSSA School of Choral Studies have had a connection for as long as Floyd can remember, with yearly performances in the Amp.

“We do like singing in there. The sound is great,” Floyd said. “We like the open air-ness of it.”

From the stage, the performers can see people walking past who hear the music and stop to listen.

“There’s something special about someone who is not intending to hear music, and does,” Floyd said.

The show is also a great opportunity for the young performers. They do have a final performance at the end of the program at Fredonia, but Chautauqua gives them an opportunity to do a concert that is not predominantly for their parents. The Amphitheater performance is closer to a professional experience.

“An anonymous audience is really important for students at their age,” Floyd said. “They do a lot of work for that moment.”