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John Alston H'15

John Alston

"When I conducted my first Mozart Requiem at Swarthmore, there were 138 members of the College Chorus. Three years later I found 7 boys in one Chester school, and that was the beginning of the Chester Children’s Chorus (CCC). Today, there are not so many singers in the College Chorus, and this summer there will be more than 140 children in the CCC. Two years ago, we sang our first Mozart Requiem, and last year we sang our first Messiah – works of art not typically associated with Chester. I tell the children all the time that when they perform, they have the opportunity to show the world that Chester children are as beautiful and capable as their neighbors’ children up the road. 

"In 2013, I wrote a song for the families of the 22 victims murdered in Chester that year. Those of you who live in poor urban areas know that there is a tradition of placing stuffed animal memorials (mostly teddy bears with “I Love You” printed on them) to mark the location of the murder or the victim’s home. At every rehearsal, children would cry when we sang the song, and yet they insisted that we sing it at every rehearsal. Our Concert Choir is our most accomplished group. There are 45 young people, ages 12-18. They are the ones who sang Requiem and Messiah. During one of our many discussions about violence in Chester, a soprano girl told us all that her older brother was one of the 22 victims. Sadly, there were more. Three of our Concert Choir members lost older brothers to murder in 2013; three, in a group of 45. When I hear educators talk about poor black kids needing more ‘grit,’ I quickly remind them that our children have experienced more hardship than you’ll ever know, and are more courageous than you’ll ever be." Read More