Don’t be surprised if the crisp autumn air ushers in the uplifting sounds of young voices across the community.
That’s the goal of Viraj Lal and Erin Smith, two Maplewood residents, musical educators and friends who are harnessing their musical insight and teaching wisdom to form the SOMa Youth Choir.
Open to students ages 8-18, the SYC hopes to “foster a love for choral music and gives children an opportunity to develop their singing potential and gain confidence and stage presence through group performances,” the founders said.
Lal and Smith explain that the tuition-based choir will host both formal and informal performances throughout the year. The four choir divisions, broken down into age groups, will rehearse and perform at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Maplewood. They credit Father Jim Worth as a crucial supporter of the new program. “He’s been incredibly enthusiastic about what we are trying to create,” said Smith.
The founders, who have over 25 years of combined music performance and education experience, formed the choir because they saw an opportunity to “extend upon the great music programs that are already intact in the South Orange Maplewood School District and surrounding communities.” Smith views the SYC as “an extension of what is happening in the community in terms of music and musical education.”
And a pitch-perfect voice is not required.
“Students are sometimes nervous or inhibited. The reality is that every kid can sing,” said Lal. “Our goal is to expose kids to singing in a social environment. We know that some people think the experience can be scary.”
Lal and Smith acknowledged Marcy Thompson, Tricia Tunstall, and Anthony Mazzocchi of the Maplewood Arts Council for helping them get the SYC on its feet so quickly. “I’m thrilled to have a high-quality, accessible youth choir in our area,” said Thompson. “There are so many young people in Maplewood and South Orange who will benefit from Viraj and Erin’s energy and experience. Their efforts will supplement our already outstanding school choral programs and will give the children who want more music in their lives a place to do something very simple, and very powerful: sing.”
Smith taught choral/general music for 12 years in the Millburn Township Schools, and is currently the National Choir Coordinator for American Young Voices (AYV), a multi-faceted music education organization that supports music educators and their programs by unifying communities around the country through large scale children’s choral concerts.
Lal has been the Choral Director at Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ since 2007. He’s directed nine vocal ensembles during his tenure, including Academy Voices, their top varsity choir. Lal’s choirs have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City with artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Loreena McKennitt.
“We’ve been lucky because of our mutual connections both personally and professionally,” added Smith.
The two accentuate the importance of making the SYC an all-inclusive ensemble, both for the singers as well as the community.
And they continue to assert the power of the ensemble’s voice. “Children singing puts humanity into focus,” Smith said. “We really need that joy nowadays.”
Visit the SOMa Youth Choir website for further details about joining, tuition rates, and all other information.