Choir conductor directs new group

Elizabeth Shewan, Staff writer

The Erie Philharmonic has recently debuted its newest ensemble, The Erie Junior Philharmonic Chorus.

The group performs under the direction of Mercyhurst Director of Choirs, Thomas Brooks, who carefully selected its members.

This group is comprised of 14 high school students from around Erie County.

The group practices weekly on campus and will perform primarily classical music.

They had their first practice in October, although planning has gone on for six months.

“We decided that what we would do for a high school choir is only the best kids who auditioned could be in that one and the best kids would have a chance to sing together,” Brooks said.

Brooks’s hope for the group is that it will bring choral singing to the Erie community as a whole, and ultimately for those who don’t have the best voice to feel comfortable singing for fun.

The area lacks strong community choral programs and, according to Brooks, “we would like to get singing back in the community, not just on a high level.”

The group uses Mercyhurst’s facilities, partly as a service to the community, and especially as a service to the young chorus members.

The goal is for the high school chorus members to be familiarized with the atmosphere of a college campus, preparing them to go to college themselves.

Some students will want to major in music, but it will be a valuable experience even if they do not study music academically.

“President Victor has the view,” according to Brooks, “that it’s important for us to get people on the university campus and get them feeling comfortable about being at the university, whether or not they come to Mercyhurst.”

“We owe that to the community to get those students comfortable about going to college… This is all about taking the president’s view philosophically but applying it in a practical way,” said Brooks.

The group will also provide opportunities for Mercyhurst Music majors and particularly Music Education majors to work with young people as collegiate mentors, developing skills they will use in their professional lives.

“I select good students out of our Music Education program,” Brooks said, “To come in and be mentors to the choir members so they get some hands on practice working with high school age kids.”

Working as mentors with the Junior Philharmonic Chorus allows Music Education majors to gain unique experience.

Brooks said, “It’s a good opportunity for our Music Ed majors to also get some hands on action with some of the better kids, because so often you go to high school and you worry about only the kids that struggle, but what do you do with the kids on top? That’s the question, and it’s difficult.”

Further, working with college-level performers serves to inspire the high school singers by providing them with a view to a higher level of performance.

“One of our goals was to get singing through the entire community, all the way down,” says Brooks, and the hope is to eventually have Philharmonic groups for Erie County students as young as elementary schoolers.

The Erie Junior Philharmonic Chorus will put on their first concert at Christmas time.