HomeE/M SentinelE/M Sentinel NewsJ.P. Stevens choir sings to win

J.P. Stevens choir sings to win

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

EDISON — For the 32 students in the John P. Stevens High School Chamber Choir, emotions progressed quickly from shock to delight and joy as they came away with the grand prize during their first time competing at the Sing N’ Joy Princeton International Choral Festival.

“Preparation for the competition was intense,” said Matthew Lee, director of the chamber choir. “We had to make sure that our three competition pieces were ready in addition to two other pieces in case we were selected for the grand prize competition.”

The Sing N’ Joy Princeton International Choral Festival 2017 was held from Feb. 16-20 at Westminster Choir College in Princeton.

More than 18 choirs from four countries competed in the competition hosted by Interkultur, a German-based organization that hosts the World Choir Games every two years in various parts of the world. This was Interkultur’s first international competition in New Jersey.

The choirs were from China, Indonesia, Puerto Rico and the U.S.

The choirs from the U.S. were from Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Lee said the weeks flew by as they were preparing for the festival.

“We were definitely nervous, as it was the first time that we ever participated in an international choir competition, and ultimately we were shocked and delighted at the result,” he said. “It was an honor to share the stage with so many other talented and hard-working choirs from all over the world.”

The J.P. Stevens High School Choir is a nationally recognized choir program consisting of five ensembles and approximately 200 students.

Both the A Cappella Choir, which had 120 students, and the Chamber Choir participated in the competition.

The A Cappella Choir performed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” by Thomas Weelkes, “Even When He Is Silent” by Kim Andre Arnesan and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” by Moses Hogan.

The Chamber Choir performed “Soneto de la Noche” by Morten Lauridsen, “Stars” by Eriks Esenvalds, “Gaudete” by Steven Sametz and “Alleluia” by Jake Runestad.

After a day of auditions, the A Cappella Choir and Chamber Choir advanced to the grand prize competition held at the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center on the evening of Feb. 19.

Each of the winners from the festival’s five categories — difficulty level I with compulsory piece, difficulty level II without compulsory piece, chamber choirs and vocal ensembles, sacred choral music and folklore — sang two more songs not previously performed to determine the grand prize winner in front of a panel of five judges.

The A Cappella Choir achieved a gold rating in the sacred choral music category, and the Chamber Choir achieved a gold rating in the mixed choirs difficulty level I category.

The judges included Aida Swenson from Indonesia, Gabriel Crouch from Great Britain and T.J. Harper, Joe Miller and composer Morten Lauridsen from the U.S.

At the grand prize competition, the A Cappella Choir sang “Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal” arranged by Alice Parker and “Baba Yetu” by Christopher Tin.

The Chamber Choir presented Javier Busto’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” and with color and movement they presented “Balleilakka” by A.R. Rahman arranged by Ethan Sperry, which is a South Indian Bollywood song.

Shobhana Sridhar, senior co-president of the choir, said the process of getting ready for the festival was filled with a lot of fun and tense moments.

“I think what allowed us to achieve this honor is that we never gave up,” she said. “While we all did feel frustrated quite a few times as we sometimes had moments when we could not get the piece together, or the nuances right, we all as a whole felt motivated and focused on the goal of doing the best we could.”

Shobhana said what makes their choir great is whether they won or not, the most important thing was that they performed to their hearts’ content and that they performed with no regrets at all.

“Being a part of this journey has been not only musical, but also magical,” she said. “We all were more than overjoyed to have won the grand prize, and I felt honored as co-president to have been able to represent the choir by accepting the award alongside our wonderful director, Mr. Lee.”

As the grand prize winner, the Chamber Choir received $2,000.

They were also awarded a special prize for their performance of one of composer Morten Lauridsen’s pieces during the competition — an autographed manuscript of the first four bars of his “O Magnum Mysterium” presented by the composer himself.

“I am incredibly proud of the students for all of their hard work,” said Lee. “The results have exceeded our own expectations, and it was such a privilege to share music with so many people from so many different parts of the world.”

One of the highlights of the evening came immediately following the ceremony when the students from the U.S. were interacting with the members of the choirs from Indonesia, Puerto Rico and China.

Pictures were taken and hugs were exchanged as students from J.P. Stevens reveled and celebrated with their new international friends, united through their shared passion for music.

The J.P. Stevens High School Choir is a nationally recognized choir program consisting of five ensembles and approximately 200 students.

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