Arts & Entertainment

Chorus Kids are Ready for Their Concert

Members of the Children's Chorus of Sussex County talk about what they enjoy about the chorus. In front, Paige McVeigh, Samantha Constatino, Abigail Biederman. Back row, Jaden rittweder, Ashley Constantino, Garrett VAnni, Zach Halteman, Emily Phelps, Catherine Poff. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Children from the Sussex County Children's Chorus accompany the singers. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Directed by Debbie Mello, the Sussex County Bel Canto and Bella Voce singers perform at the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice butterfly release.   Credits: By Jane Primerano

NEWTON, NJ – The new Performing Arts Center at Sussex County Community College is the scene of the 22nd annual spring concert by the Children’s Chorus of Sussex County.

The children will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 8.

The spring concert is the culmination of a year’s hard work, but it is far from the only chance the 70-member chorus has to perform. They have a winter concert each December and are invited to many area performances.

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On Sunday, June 2, many of the children performed at the Karen Ann Quinlan Center of Hope Butterfly Release, also at the college. Their brief appearance was at the end of a busy weekend which started Friday with the Pennsylvania High Notes Festival in Allentown followed by a trip to Dorney Park.

The trip to Dorney is one reason to join, according to Abigail Biederman, 6, of Newton.

But there are many other reasons, a group of the singers said before their performance at the butterfly release.

“I love to sing, I dream of becoming a famous singer,” said Paige McVeigh, 8, of Byram.

Jaden Rittweder, 10, of Fredon, explained her parents have a band. Zach Halteman, 9, said he loves going to different places, and Garrett Vanni, 10, of Newton, said it allows him to be himself.

On Saturday, the kids participated in The Singing Cure, a Choral Festival at Teaneck High School. Other participants were The Mystic Chorale, Olympia’s Daughters and the Teaneck High School Madrigals. The festival is organized by Nick Page, director of The Mystic Chorale.

Children’s Chorus founder and artistic director Debbie Mello said, “We commissioned Nick Page to compose a song for our 20th anniversary concert.”

Mello founded the Children’s Chorus in the fall of 1990 as one chorus of about 45 children in fourth through eighth grades. Gradually the number of kids was expanding and “we branched out so they would fit in.”

First, she went to two groups by age, then to three. The younger group, Bel Canto, is for children in first through fourth grades and the older, Bella Voce, directed by Marily Berrie, choral music teacher at the Hackettstown Middle School, for children in fifth through eighth. Some Bella Voce singers are alumni of Bel Canto, others are new to the organization.

The Concert Choir is made up mostly of high school students with unchanged voices. change, Mello said after a recent rehearsal at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton. .

The younger children rehearse after school on Wednesday afternoons. With Mello taking Bel Canto and Berrie working with Bella Voce. The older ones rehearse Wednesday and Sunday evenings, also at Christ Church.

Although Sussex County is in the name, the children also come from Passaic, Warren and Morris counties, and one student is from Pennsylvania.

Linda Degroat accompanies the Concert Choir. She teaches music at Long Pond School in Andover as well as giving private piano lessons and serving as organist at Lafayette Federated Church.

Janelle Heise accompanies Bel Canto and Bella Voce. She is a music educator and choral director at Pequannock Middle School.

Mello retired after teaching music at Randolph High School. She teaches at Seton Hall and directors the Junior Choir at Christ Church.

She has taken the concert choir across the United States, Canada, Europe and South America. They served as Chorus in Residence for the Choral Music Experience Certification Course at Villanova, Ithaca College, University of South Carolina and, joined by Bella Voce, at Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina. 

The concert choir has also performed at Carnegie Hall on several occasions, at Washington National Cathedral, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, at the White House and with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at NJPAC. They have toured Rome, Tuscany, Vienna, Prague, British Columbia, Brazil and Argentina.

In 2009, they were featured choir for the Crescent City Festival in New Orleans. Besides being invited to events around New Jersey, they have participated in choir exchanges and home stays with children’s choruses throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

For the Bel Canto group, performing is only part of the fun. “we go outside and throw balls for warm-ups, Samantha Constantino, 8, of Fredon said. Several children, including Emily Phelps, 8, of Byram, commented on how much they enjoyed making new friends.

All who are old enough sing in their school choruses and jumped at the chance to audition for the Children’s Chorus.

“An older friend brought me, Catherine Poff, 8, of Byram, noted.

Abigail said, “I tried to sing my best so I could get in”


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