Pacific Chorale Conductor John Alexander studied the large audience at a recent chorale concert and wondered how best to interest young people to ensure that there is an audience for classical music in 20 years.
"For years, we have wanted to involve young people in professional music for the sake of the future of music. . . . We've tried all sorts of things, including giving away tickets to get students at our concerts," Alexander said in a recent interview.
"But we determined . . . (that the way was) to really get them involved, and not make it a passive experience."
The result: Today's high school choir festival, which will give about 600 young singers in 15 local choirs a taste of the big time--performing at the luxurious Orange County Performing Arts Center in the first event of its kind there.
The choirs will give a series of short presentations from 9 a.m. to noon, then will join the 140-member chorale in a rehearsal from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Both the morning program and the afternoon rehearsal on the Center's Segerstrom Hall stage are free and open to the public.
The high point for the kids, or at least 300 of them, may be appearing with the chorale for parts of the evening "Coronation Festival" program, which will include works by Handel, Elgar, Walton and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.
"We have to do this type of event in order to remind people of what our potential in the high schools is," Alexander said, even if it means that Pacific Chorale pays most of the $30,000 tab out of its own limited resources.
"We have to continually realize that we have to broaden our base and not let the center be for (only) a few concert-goers," he explained. "We have to open it up for everyone if the future of music is to be bright for us."
When he first began organizing what is envisioned as an annual choral festival, Alexander sent invitations to every high school in Orange County. The response was overwhelming. "Within two weeks, we were absolutely full," he said.
Fire regulations and space considerations at the Center forced festival organizers to limit the number of participants to 600, Alexander said, adding, "So it was first-come, first-served."
Still, the 15 schools chosen come from all over the county.
Beginning at 9 a.m. and appearing at 10-minute intervals will be Bolsa Grande, Buena Park, Capistrano Valley, Corona del Mar, Dana Hills, Foothill, Fountain Valley, Katella, Laguna Beach, Loara, Mission Viejo, Orange, Santa Ana, Savannah and Villa Park high schools.
Each school choir will be conducted by its director in a program of its own choosing. The only stipulation was that they sing classical music, this to emphasize the importance of a classical repertory.
"Many high schools have show choirs and specialize in pop music, whereas 10 years ago, they did more classical selections," Alexander said. "We thought this would give conductors a good reason to go into classical selections."
As choir students across the county rehearsed this week for the big day, their directors spoke enthusiastically of the unique opportunity.
"Any time (students) can perform with a professional organization, it's just great for them," said Robert Perry, Capistrano Valley High School's director of choral music. His 28-student chorus will sing contemporary classical works by Houston Bright and Egil Hovland as well as the Gloria from Schubert's Mass in G in its morning program.
"They'll also get to see how the other groups work and what music they're doing. . . . My kids are looking forward to it," Perry said during a break in rehearsals.
"It's an exciting experience for the kids to get a chance to sing in our new Performing Arts Center," said Michael Short, choral director at Orange High School. "They're proud to have the opportunity . . . and I know they will grow tremendously from the experience."
Short's choir of 95 will sing works by Palestrina, Norman Dello Joio and an arrangement of "Shenandoah."
The festival may be popular with high school choral directors, but it has the makings of a significant financial loss for the Pacific Chorale.
Alexander said they have raised only $10,000 of the $30,000 cost to put on the festival--$3,000 in a grant from the Mission Viejo Co. and the rest from the Irvine Co., Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. and a private donor, Charles Hester.
The total cost represents about 10% of the chorale's operating budget for the year, according to business manager Rita Majors.
"We decided to bite the bullet, no matter what happened with the funding," said Alexander. He added, "But we are still actively pursuing funds."
Still, Alexander already foresees a sequel.
"Next year, we'll do more," he vowed. "We'll do the festival on a day completely separate from our (regular subscription) season, so the whole day and evening will be devoted to (the) concept of the festival. . . . We also plan to include college groups in the evening."
Alexander's aim is simple: "My goal is to be a catalyst, to get people to see the potential, see where the high school experience goes," he said. "So many people had music experience as children in school and just simply quit when (they go to) college and become serious with their careers.
"This kind of event can give them (insight) into how they can continue both as a listener and a performer on the adult level."