Summer Performing Arts with Juilliard commenced early this month at Collège du Léman in Switzerland. Camilla Woodhouse, Programme Manager for Nord Anglia's collaboration with Juilliard, experienced the Festival Choir lesson to understand how the power of performing arts, especially music, can unite everyone.
On Saturday, 8th July, the gates of Collège du Léman in Switzerland opened and 130 performing arts students from 32 countries streamed through, ready to spend two weeks with guest artists and teachers from The Juilliard School. You could hear nerves in the excited laughter and chatter as the students, aged 10-18, started to make friends and explore the school where they would be studying and living. Parents who had been calming worries only 30 minutes earlier were now being ignored as their children were gaining confidence in their new surroundings. Schedules were distributed, roommates found, and at 7pm, with high anticipation, Summer Performing Arts with Juilliard began!
The Juilliard team, led by Seth Baer, Senior Manager of Global K-12 Programs at Juilliard Global Ventures, had been preparing for the programme for months. All students arrived to find a personal curriculum that would both inspire and challenge them. In addition to their personal timetables on their chosen disciplines of dance, voice, drama or instrumental, students would spend an hour together each day in the Festival Choir. Every student, no matter what they were studying, would be performing together on the last day of the programme in a choral ensemble that included pieces by Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams.
I was keen to experience the Festival Choir with the students and was welcomed into the lesson by the Choir Conductor, Tim Keeler, on the understanding that I would participate and not just stand in as an observer! So, on the second day of the programme I found myself in an auditorium with a folder of music thrusted into my hands as I joined 130 students ready to sing my heart out.
It was immediately obvious that Tim’s passion, energy and teaching skills were more than enough to keep all the students engaged and learning. As a sought-after performer in some of New York’s most celebrated vocal ensembles, Tim’s powerful countertenor voice drops quieter when he wants to be heard-- and you visibly see students lean in to ensure they hear. Though students were timid because it was only the second day of the programme, Tim divided and moved the students around the room according to their voice type (sopranos, alto, tenor and bass) and warmed up their voices with rhythm and movement. Suddenly students from different disciplines, ages and countries were sat next to one another, ready to learn how to sing in harmony.
“It gives all the students a common goal and a shared experience. In these two weeks a community is created that everyone is part of and can instantly relate to,” Tim explained to me when asked why the Festival Choir is such a key part of Summer Performing Arts with Juilliard.
The camaraderie is palpable. Drama students stood next to pianists mixed in with dancers who were all singing and connecting to both the music and each other.
No matter their area of study, the Festival Choir teaches students something that they will find useful, Tim explains. Dancers will choreograph better when they understand the music; actors learn diction and the intention behind words; instrumentalists see music lifted from the page in a way many have never experienced before; and vocalists are inspired by the ensemble and the world class conducting.
Patiently and with a constant smile and endless enthusiasm, Tim worked with students for an hour, teaching, coaxing and encouraging them. There’s a moment towards the end of the choir practice with only a few minutes left of class, when it happens. All the voices in the hall come together and sing in a beautiful sounding harmony that reverberates throughout the hall. As the sound trails off everyone is silent for a moment, a little shocked at how impressive they sound on just the second day of choir lessons. The auditorium then erupts into laughter. Everyone hears the strength of their combined voices and any nerves they had when they walked into the lesson are blown away. At that moment, I realise the truth behind Tim’s words and how important choir is in shaping the programme and bringing together a community among strangers. I’m proud to have played a part in it.
Watch the Festival Choir live on Youtube 21 July. The two performances will be broadcasted at 3pm and 6:30 pm GMT.