Just in time for its annual summer camp, the Chester Children’s Chorus (CCC) has a new home on campus.
It’s a stately stone and wood building on Harvard Avenue with a red awning. The first floor has a math classroom for younger students and a kitchen, where cooking classes are held. On the second, there’s a piano, whiteboards, and a large seating area for rehearsals. Off to the side, there are tables where, after lunch, summer camp students can enjoy one-on-one reading opportunities with volunteer adult readers, including Swarthmore staff.
“This is the first time we've had our own building on campus. For us, it's a game-changer," says Dana Semos, managing and education director.
The Chester Children’s Chorus has been a part of the campus community since its founding by Executive and Artistic Director John Alston H ’15 in 1994. Historically, Alston and Assistant Musical Director Sean Tripline have visited every second-grade classroom in Chester and auditioned every student for the chorus. (This year, they had to stop a few classrooms short due to COVID-19, but offered additional audition opportunities, such as an open house.)
For students who pass the audition, participation in the summer learning program is free, and includes not only music rehearsals but a plethora of other academic and extracurricular opportunities. Classes offered this year include reading, science, cooking, African dance, hip-hop dance, and photography. Watch Chester Children's Chorus members Mikynzie and Amari reflect on their experiences with the Science for Kids program at the summer's culminating event.
One of the crown jewels of CCC is its math practice program.
"This is the first summer the rising sixth graders are working with a math coach,” says Lead Math Teacher Kevin Downs. “This allows individualized instruction that focuses on the specific needs of the student.”
Summer camp participant and rising high school junior Armani Madden has been coming to CCC since the third grade. She admits somewhat sheepishly that math is her favorite part, aside from singing. She enjoys the one-on-one tutoring she gets from Swarthmore students.
“I love to have someone tell me exactly what I need to know specifically and teach me in the ways that I can understand,” says Madden. “The different people that I’ve worked with, it’s been a wonderful experience. I always leave knowing a lot more than [when] I came in.”
"We're most impressed with the students' enthusiasm towards math practice,” adds Downs. “Students used to dread coming to math class — certainly understandable considering it's summertime.”
“I love to be busy, so it’s not really giving up anything,” says Madden. “It’s a privilege for us to be here. I love to come and have a good time and sing and just do the things that I love.”
Madden expects the math skills she learned at CCC will help her in her future medicine career. She plans to become an anesthesiologist and hopes to attend Johns Hopkins University after graduation.
CCC alumni certainly have a reputation for going on to do great things. Skyy Brooks entered the chorus at age six. Now she’s off to Harvard University and Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship, one of only 20 students in the world to receive this dual-enrollment opportunity.
“John Alston has given me musical guidance for 11 years, even accompanying me in my college audition for Berklee,” says Brooks. “I know that I can always come back to the CCC building if I ever need a day of laughter and great music.”
Brooks performed her last pre-college solo performance, “An Afternoon of Jazz Standards,” at Swarthmore on July 10. The performance featured a number of her favorite songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
“The Chester Children’s Chorus has shaped me into the musician that I am today. Not only did the choir expose me to new genres of music, it also emphasized the importance of singing music that was meaningful to us,” says Brooks. “In the choir, I found a second family, full of other young, Black students who loved music.”
The CCC is very excited to be sending Brooks off to college, where she will pursue both African American studies and jazz performance.
“She's just a spectacular person,” says Semos. “We are fortunate to have her with us. Honestly, our kids ... they're just really good kids, and I feel lucky to be here.”
CCC’s six-week Summer Learning Program had its end-of-the-summer concerts on July 22 and 23. They performed William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus” and a rock’n’roll set featuring Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” and Ray Charles’ hard-swinging version of “Let The Good Times Roll.”
“With a lot of effort from some passionate and dedicated staff members, we probably gave the best concert we’ve ever given,” says Alston.
“I was the proudest I’ve ever been of the children.”
You can watch the Chester Children’s Chorus Summer Concert here.