Students from New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Choral Studies have been coming to Chautauqua Institution to perform for as long as Jared Berry can remember. But according to Berry, NYSSSA assistant director for administration, every performance is a “brand new experience” for him and the audience.
The group’s performance at the Institution will take place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28 in the Amphitheater. This year, there are just under 60 students in the four-week choral studies program from all over New York State, ranging from high school freshmen to rising college freshmen.
“It’s a real wide array, perhaps the most geographically diverse group I have seen in my time here at NYSSSA,” Berry said. “That is really important to us, because they all bring different strengths to the overall performance.”
To be selected for the program, students must complete a “rigorous” application and audition process. Even though it’s selective, Berry said students on “all technical levels” are accepted.
“We are looking for students who will grow no matter what level they are at now,” he said. “We’ve had students come for one summer and it be life-changing for them, but we have also had returners who have come for as many as five summers straight. They continue to come back, learn and apply their techniques over and over again.”
The students are engaged six days a week through choir rehearsals, ensemble meetings, seminars and private lessons. The Amp performance always kicks off the last week of the program, which is why Berry thinks Chautauqua is the perfect opportunity to see all of the students’ work come together.
“This is one of the highlights of our summer every single year,” he said. “For me, to see everything we have worked for come together on that Amp stage — it’s incredible. I am always so proud of what they accomplish in such a small amount of time.”
This year, under the artistic direction of Hugh Ferguson Floyd, the students will perform a “varied repertoire,” including classical pieces, songs in different languages and music from modern composers. According to Berry, the students have never repeated a piece at a Chautauqua performance.
“We have classical pieces selected by composers like Mozart, but we will also perform gospel music and more current pieces as well,” he said. “We try to get the students exposed to a wide array of music history and time periods, as well as different cultures. It’s really perfect for a place as culturally rich as Chautauqua.”
Berry said the variety of music will align with Chautauqua’s intergenerational audience.
“I think there will be something for everyone to really enjoy at this concert,” he said. “There is such a wide variety of selections, that I think there will be something that appeals to everyone in the family. We have a lot of fun with it.”
Every year, Berry sees “full-circle moments.” For him, he sees alumni of NYSSSA both performing and working as part of the faculty.
But for his students, that “full-circle” moment occurs when they step onto the Amp stage.
“The students love coming back,” he said. “It’s always sort of life-changing for the students when they see professional-level opera happen on the stage and then days later, they come to perform their music that they have been preparing for weeks on that same exact stage. It’s beautiful, and we’re so excited.”