Laura is a high school senior at Millennium Art Academy in the Bronx and has been a member of the Sing for Hope Youth Chorus for almost a year and a half. We wanted to learn more about what the experience has meant to her — here is our conversation.
How did you first become involved with the Sing for Hope Youth Chorus?
A couple summers ago, I wanted to work on my singing and do something involving the arts, so my grandmother looked up summer programs and found the Sing for Hope Summer Arts Intensive. I was accepted, and at the end of the program, I had the chance to perform with the Sing for Hope Youth Chorus. That was the first time I saw the Youth Chorus — I remember being so inspired by this one girl who had the strongest voice I’d ever heard!
How have your experiences in the Summer Arts Intensive and as a member of the Youth Chorus expanded your access to the arts?
The schools where I came from don’t have art, really. Just one classroom for painting. But I wanted to do more than that. So coming to the Summer Arts Intensive and getting the chance to take classes in dance, singing, theater – it was amazing! Seeing all these different art forms really solidified for me the idea that art is everywhere, that it’s so essential to humanity. In fact it inspired me to pursue musical theatre because I feel like that art form just ties everything together – you have everything from singing to dancing to acting in one shot!
The Youth Chorus has given me the chance to take the arts seriously, and it’s showed me that this is something I want to do – not just something I’m going dabble in, but something I want to really devote my life to. And seeing people who have actually done it, who have actually lived their life with the arts, made me think: I can do it too.
Students created pop art portraits with Volunteer Artist Laura Ricciardi at the Sing for Hope Summer Arts Intensive
What makes the Sing for Hope Youth Chorus special to you?
I was nervous; I’d never had music theory or sang a chorus song in my life. But that didn’t matter! Everybody just welcomed me with a big smile. Ms. Martinez would sit down with me and say, ,Okay, this is a quarter note, this is what forte and piano mean – she was willing to break it down for me. The kids come from all different backgrounds and they all were eager to tell me how they came to the chorus, to share their stories. I remember talking to this girl, Christy, whom I looked up to so much. She told me, ,You have to feel, Laura, don’t just get lost in the notes, you have to feel the music. So I feel like this Chorus makes creating music about more than just the notes on the page. We put our hearts into it and we make a family out of it.
The Sing for Hope Youth Chorus has had some pretty exciting opportunities to sing in unique venues, like the performance at the UN last fall, and with very talented artists like Ren©e Fleming at our 2014 Gala. Could you share one of your most thrilling memories performing as part of the Chorus?
It would definitely have to be singing right next to Ren©e Fleming — she was a foot away from me! I was really scared, but I also kept reminding myself, you’re alive right now! When you stand next to her and hear her voice, it takes you somewhere else. It’s one of those moments that made me grow up a little bit. When I arrived at the Youth Chorus, I was really quiet, really reserved. But when we sang with Ren©e Fleming, everybody had to step up. There was no room for shyness! And I learned something about myself – that I can lead now, I can stand next to this grown woman with an amazing career and sing alongside her.
The Sing for Hope Youth Chorus sings with Ren©e Fleming at last falls Gala.
An important part of being in the Youth Chorus is about giving back to the community through music and spreading the joy of music to those who might not otherwise have the chance to experience it. What does it mean to you to share your musical talent with others?
I feel like I’m sharing my life. Nothing is more beautiful than music. There’s this moment I will always carry with me, when we were singing to a patient at a hospital. We sang ,Firework, which is such a happy song, but this guy just broke down crying hearing us. He said he’d had a rough day with physical therapy, but that we had given him the strength to keep going and get past this. With music, you have this ability to move people and get them to a point you can’t get to just by speaking to them. Music awakens something that is instinctual in us, and I think the music that we offer to the community has the power to really make someone’s day. To brighten someone’s life just by singing a pop song is an amazing gift to be able to give.