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Count Me In: Giving NYC Students Access to Choral Training

Count Me In, a new choral program of Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, engages New York City students in grades 6–8 who do not have access to choral training in their schools. Last weekend, the Weill Music Institute wrapped up its four-week series of workshops with young musicians, who'd learned about how to sing in a chorus and prepare for auditions at established music-performance programs. Chantel Renee Wright, one of the 2011–2012 workshop leaders and director of Harlem's celebrated Songs of Solomon youth choir, recently discussed the goals of Count Me In and the importance of inspiring young people through music.

Have you been involved in a program like this before? Why do you think something like Count Me In is necessary?

For the past 10 years, I have worked with students to prepare them for the college audition process. Count Me In is critical for children who do not receive musical training in their schools or communities. We may miss the next Leontyne Price if we don't reach out. Many children are natural-born singers and musicians, but if they walk into an audition unprepared, they miss out on that opportunity.

Count Me In

In your experience, how can singing in a choir affect young people's lives?

When a standard is established for a young person and he or she reaches that standard, everything changes for the student. As the founder of Songs of Solomon, I have watched insecure children become empowered. I've had the honor of working with children who could not match pitch and are now in major conservatories across the country. Humanity seeks community, and a choir achieves that. Singing with other like-minded people gives a child a sense of belonging. Acceptance, teamwork, accountability, and reckless abandon of expression have made all of the difference for our members.

What are you looking for in program participants?

I am looking for open vessels that are ready to receive the ingredients for a successful audition. I want the hungry mouths that get a hint that they have been given a leg up in the game—children who will do their best to close the deal. I'm looking for children who not only are looking towards high school, but those who are college-bound.

What is the key to successfully inspiring these young musicians?

After 25 years in music education, I know that the more love and energy I am able to give, the more students will respond in a positive way. In my heart, I want to help as many children as I can to fulfill their life's purpose. It is my giveback for everything that I have received. The children respond because they honor their instincts and they work to find the best of what's on the inside.

What is the potential for a program like this? Where could it lead in the coming years?

Count Me In is the answer for thousands of children in this area. I worked at one of the major performing arts schools for 13 years in Manhattan and I was devastated every year at the lack of preparation by students who had musical potential. I envision all five boroughs participating in Count Me In over a period of time. I foresee many of the students being exposed to other choral-music programs outside of their respective schools. Success is a possibility when preparation meets opportunity.

Count Me In: Afterschool Choral Initiative

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