Alumni Features

Check out our interviews with these awesome Alumni!

Amara Granderson ’09

BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now

Amara Granderson: I am a senior Africana Studies Major and Theater and Religion double Minor at Oberlin College.  I’ve acted in productions of musicals and straight plays throughout every semester of my undergrad career.  I’ve been a math tutor as well as an after school dance instructor in local elementary schools in the city of Oberlin.  I’m a co-director of the oldest running improv group on campus, a co-host of Oberlin’s first late night talk show, and an alto in the Acapelicans, one of Oberlin’s two non-male a capella groups.  After working in the ensemble of the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Off-Broadway production of “Romeo ‘n’ Juliet” in 2014, playing the titular role in Young Gotham Arts’ 2015 Off-off-Broadway production of “Antigone,” making my regional theater debut in “Stick Fly” with the Intiman Theatre’s 2016 spring season, my latest endeavors have been applying to MFA acting programs.  My final role at Oberlin will be playing the “Lady in Red” in a production of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, “For Colored Girls…”

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation?

AG: After seven incredibly formative years, my time in BYC ended in 2009 with the New York Philharmonic’s Mahler: Symphony 8, directed by the late, incomparable Lorin Maazel.  While my time as a chorister ended, I continued to take piano lessons with the lovely Valentina Nazarenko at Brooklyn Music School throughout my senior year of high school.  From 10th through 12th grade I performed in the musicals “Illyria,” as Viola,  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” as Judah, and “Once Upon a Mattress,” as Winnifred.  In addition, during junior year of high school, I choreographed for the fifth grade musical.  Throughout high school, I often accompanied myself on the piano while harmonizing to GarageBand pre-recordings of myself, singing my own arrangements of whatever songs happened to be stuck in my head at the time.  In undergrad, in addition to performing in musicals (“Company,” Kander & Pierce’s “The Landing,” “Spring Awakening”) I’ve lead empowering ballads, (e.g.,, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”) along with fellow students at sociopolitical demonstrations on campus. 

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help you prepare for college and beyond?

AG: It’s absolutely trained me to engage in professional settings with composure.  Given that “holding areas” and “call times” were a normal part of the lexicon of the lifestyle of touring and doing gigs, you couldn’t help but to have ‘professionalism’ be synonymous with ‘normalcy.’  Also, the vocal training I received from BYC has been incomparable.  Hands down.  While my range has certainly fluctuated throughout the years, and I’ve found more comfort in singing as an alto as opposed to a soprano, I am still able to access my head voice by the use of my diaphragm. 

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC

AG: There were a bevy of hilarious memories from BYC, because the friendships formed with fellow choristers are half of the joy you experience while being a chorister.  Perhaps one of the funniest memories, however, was in Graz, Austria, during the 2008 World Choir Games.  One of the competing choirs sang a beautifully intense arrangement of “In the Beginning Was the Word.”  Throughout the duration of tour, my friends and I would jokingly sing the song, mimicking the same fervor.  One night, my roommate and I were roaming the halls of our hotel to pay our friend a visit.  As we skipped through the halls, we sang “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God,” with preteen exuberance and joyous negligence.  When we finally arrived to our friend’s room, we began pounding on the door, belting, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was OPEN THE DOOR!”  Finally the door opens, but much to our humiliation, instead of our fun middle school-aged peer, it was a large, groggy, middle-aged European man who literally looked down on us, and reprimanded, “Ladies! Go to sleep! This is not United States!” and promptly slammed the door in our faces.  Needless to say, we were so spooked that we ran back to our room to collect ourselves, then finally made it to our friend’s room, telling her this instance of our first encounter of international disdain for American impulsiveness.  

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

AG: I’m sure everyone says this, but enjoy your time!  You experience so much as a minor in a professional children’s chorus than many people do in adulthood, and it’s such an incredible privilege.  Regarding going back in time, I wish I would’ve been more confident during my time as a chorister.  I deliberately sang quietly because I feared overpowering everyone else.  When the music required us to sing forte, I would sing mezzo forte, because I was so concerned about ruining the blend.  While these are certainly valid concerns while singing in a chorus, I actually knew and loved the music– I just didn’t trust myself.  So current choristers, trust your voices! 

BYC: We would love you to ask yourself something we wouldn’t know otherwise that we could add as well. Feel free to share anything, the floor is yours!

AG: I don’t believe I mentioned this in any of the other answers, but I was a lifer at Brooklyn Friends School, and was a chorister at BYC from second through eighth grade (2002-2009). 

Christina Santa Maria ’10

BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now.

Christina Santa Maria: My name is Christina Santa Maria. I was a chorister in BYC from 2005-2010. After graduating from LaGuardia High School, I was admitted to Binghamton University where I recently received my Bachelor of Music with a minor in Linguistics. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Voice Pedagogy and Performance at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation from BYC?

CSM: While in Binghamton, I was an opera chorister in over nine productions with Tri-Cities Opera, where in my last year was the lead role in a one-act comic opera called “Speed Dating Tonight”. I also gave the world premiere performance of a Chamber Opera called “War and Consequence” by Evan Flury, a student of composition at Binghamton, and played Hansel in Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel.

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help prepare you for college and beyond?

CSM: BYC offers superb education in music and in healthy singing, the foundation to everything I do today. The musicianship skills I gained from working in the chorus prepared me to present myself as a professional musician. I was able to go into auditions and sight-read music on the spot and market myself as a singer that could voice mix with ease.

My love for music, especially of choral and new works, came from my experience as a chorister in BYC. I talk about my time as a chorister with BYC all the time! It is truly astonishing how much we accomplished. BYC gave me the opportunity to work with renowned industry professionals such as John Legend, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Grizzly Bear and Natasha Bedingfield. I still have some of the songs stuck in my head from being part of BYC’s Composer in Residence program.

My goal as a musician is to continue to perform classical and operatic music on stage and in churches. I also aim to teach Lyric Diction and Vocal Literature at the University level and set up a private studio for voice lessons. I may decide to continue my schooling and get my Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA) but I haven’t made up my mind yet. 

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers?

CSM: My advice to current choristers is to keep practicing and enjoy the moment! Don’t take anything for granted and thank the leaders around you. The staff at BYC is among the best in the world. All those long rehearsals pay off and you will miss them after you leave. BYC is truly a one of a kind organization and I look forward to see how it grows in the future. 

Kyle Weekes ’09

BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now

Kyle Weekes: I moved to New York City at the age of eleven to pursue his career as a singer. During my time with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus I was able to perform with artists such as Elton John, Alicia Keys, Barbara Streisand and Lou Reed. Following my graduation from Queens College in 2014, I began developing my brand “KYRON WE” as an independent artist and have since produced two music videos. In 2016 I began to develop my portfolio as a model. Mycommitment to modeling stems from a growing interest in style as it relates to defiance and culture. Noteworthy collaborations include Rankin for NYSKIN and Erick Hercules for PUMA. 

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation?

KW: Graduating from BYC was more of an emotional experience than graduating from Fiorello H. Laguardia H.S. I continued studying classical music as a voice major at Aaron Copland School of Music, the conservatory at C.U.N.Y. Queens College. There, I learned a lot more about music composition and theory than expected, and I decided to take a MIDI sequencing course. I loved learning from the award winning film composer Pete Calandra, so I purchased all the equipment needed for an at home studio, and began working on my own music.

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help you prepare for college and beyond?

KW: I love that BYC continues to participate in projects that challenge the norm of live performance. Growing up in an organization that exposes you to so many cultures and collaborative art forms has helped shape my open personality, and high level of professionalism. 

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC

KW: One of my funniest memories was the Talent Show the choristers put together while on tour in London. It was the first time we ever did something that informal as a group and it was hilarious. 

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

KW: I would advise choristers to visit colleges, and have a few questions for at least 5 people participating in the program they are interested in. Everything that glitters is not gold.

Follow Kyle on his journey @kyronwe

Karen O’donoghue ’04

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BYC: Give us  a brief bio about yourself and where you are now

Karen O’donoghue: I am a 30 year old Doctor of Physical Therapy with the Department of Education where I help children with special needs improve their balance , coordination and strength in an elementary  school setting. During session’s with my students, I incorporate music to help aid in movement therapy.  I currently reside in Brooklyn, NY with my husband and daughter Aria Lyric who I am already prepping to join BYC (Even though she is only 5 months old) 😉

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation ?

KO: After graduating BYC, I attended Hampton University where I joined the University Choir for the 4 years I attended. I was also asked to audition for the elite concert choir that you could only be invited to join, and was accepted into that choir as well. Currently, I am active with my Church choir and participate in their concerts as well as annually, I am a soloist at a Christmas sing-a-long.

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help you prepare for college and beyond?

KO: My experience at BYC helped me prepare for college and beyond by helping me establish a strong work ethic and time management. Growing up I was involved in a lot of extra curricular activities. I have many memories of getting home late after a concert or rehearsal from BYC and still completing homework assignments and projects for school on time. Those skills that I learned at a young age are still embedded in me today, and I owe that all to BYC.  

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC

KO: My funniest memory from BYC was while we were performing at Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary concert. Backstage, Kelly, Beyonce and Michelle (Formally known as Destiny’s Child) were walking by us. While I was star struck, I was still very composed (Thanks to Jossy training us on how to behave around celebrities during events like this) I completely snubbed Beyonce as she tried to shake my hand and went straight to Kelly which was my favorite singer at that time. Now when I look back, I can’t believe I snubbed one of the most talented singers of today’s time. I would do anything to go back in time and have a do-over of that moment! Haha!

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

KO: The advice I would give to current choristers is to enjoy every minute of the experience BYC has to offer. I met my best friends in BYC that I am still very close to today. Having memories about performing in places such as Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, getting to perform with countless celebrities, traveling all over the world and lets not forget the Grammy!!  It all seemed so normal to me when I was in BYC, However most people never will get to experience such things. If I could go back in time, I would try and properly document everything I participated in. I would love to be able to look back now at all the different events I attended.

BYC : Share Anything – 

KO: After graduating from BYC, I was really sad that a huge part of my childhood was coming to an end. I remember thinking at my last concert with BYC that one day they would extend BYC to an adult chorus so I could once again be reunited with my friends singing and sharing our talent with the world. Today I am so excited to be a member of the BYC Alumni Chorus, being back at BYC makes me feel like I have finally returned home. 

Amandla Turner ’07

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BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now

Amandla Turner:I’m a 27 year old female singer songwriter and guitarist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. I was a member of The Brooklyn Youth Chorus for 10 years and attended Berklee College of Music. I still  live in Brooklyn and teach music classes for young children, and perform with a professional band around the city. I’m currently working on my album. 

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation?

AT: After graduation music continued to be a huge part of my life. I began to experiment with the idea of songwriting, recording and performing my own music. I also attended Berklee college of music and from there played music with children at the Brooklyn Conservatory of music and now at a local preschool. 

BYC:How did your experience at BYC help you prepare for college and beyond?

AT: The biggest thing that I learned form BYC is how to be a professional musician. We choristers were trained to always be on time, always be prepared, to be responsible for ourselves, learn your craft and how to work creativity with others.

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC

AT: What I remember with affection is wonderful Jossy doing her ballet stretches during our rehearsals. I always thought that was very sweet. 

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

AT: My advice would be to take in every moment and to enjoy the ride. It will go fast and it’s an experience that will always stay with you. You will miss it when it’s over. I definitely do.

Kristal Pacific ’10

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BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now.

Kristal Pacific:After graduating from Bard High School Early College (and BYC) in 2010, I moved to Philadelphia to obtain a BM in Music History and Classical Voice from the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University (2013) and a MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University (2014). As part of my graduate career and in order to fuel my passion for travel and global engagement, I studied abroad at IAE Business School in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I began my professional arts administration career working for a myriad of organizations in Philadelphia including Usiloquy Dance Designs, Relâche, Theatre Horizon, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Prince Theater. In order to take the next step, I have decided to relocate back to New York because that has always been where I ultimately saw myself living and working. I am slated to begin as the Manager of Institutional Giving at Symphony Space at the end of the month. BYC has instilled a love of the arts in me and now I am happy to be instrumental in ascertaining that they are fully funded by pursuing a career in Development.

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation from BYC?

KP:As I mentioned before, I studied Music History and Classical Voice during my undergraduate career so that kept me very involved with music. I sang with the Temple University Choirs, had various recitals, and affiliated with Sigma Alpha Iota, an International Music Fraternity. When I was in college, a really awesome, world-colliding moment happened when Dianne asked me to sing with BYC and Barbra Streisand in Philadelphia and Brooklyn because one of our rehearsals was on my college campus.  

After college, I joined the Philly Pops Festival Chorus and sang alongside Broadway stars and even got to sing with Henry Connick Jr. I continue to sing on a freelance basis including as a part of an ensemble with my partner, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Elijah J. Thomas, that uses music as a forum for collaboration, personal storytelling and open dialogue.

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help prepare you for college and beyond?

KP:One of the most important lessons I learned from being a member of BYC was time management. I was only 11 when I got into Concert Chorus, so from a young age, I had to learn about prioritizing, scheduling and managing a calendar, skills that really helped me succeed in college and beyond.

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC.

KP:Hmmm… I’m not sure how funny this is, but I remember when Dianne asked me to sing with Elton John the very first time. It was during the summer and I wanted to go to sleepaway camp with my friends, so I declined the offer. Guys, I literally said “no” to singing with Sir Elton John to go to summer camp in New Jersey. I had only been on the planet for 11 years so I didn’t know any better. Anywho, by some act of providence, the offer came up again! By that time, I was in high school and I was making much better choices. I was extremely thankful to have the opportunity to sing with an International icon for his 60th birthday at Madison Square Garden. The performance was electric and was one of the greatest moments of my life.

BYC: What was your favorite BYC performance + song to sing?

KP:My grandmother passed away from cancer in May of 2009. Prior to this, Dianne had asked me to sing as a part of small ensemble as back-up for Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest Album Release. I was really excited for the opportunity because I absolutely loved making that album. Once she heard of my grandmother’s passing, she checked in with me and asked if I was still okay to do the performance. I told her that I needed to do it. At that point, I needed to be with my BYC family, doing what I loved, which was singing. That performance was very much a healing experience for me and really helped me with my grief. It’s funny because, just a week ago, both moments appeared within my Facebook Memories AND I was recently in a bar where they were playing the album. Fond thoughts of BYC and my grandmother started flooding my mind. I am grateful that two of my favorite things are forever intertwined. Life is so mysteriously beautiful sometimes.

BYC: What was your favorite memory from a BYC tour?

KP:On every single tour that I participated in (England & Wales, Austria, national ACDA conferences) there was always a moment when we sang On the Street Where You Live. People would often “stop and stare” and it felt great to just sing with my best friends and make people happy.

BYC: Any advice for current choristers?

KP:Be present. As a member of BYC, you are experiencing things that other people can only dream of. I remember feeling at home every time I went to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, knowing my way around the buildings like the back of my hand. I thought that that was normal. It’s not and we are all extremely lucky for the opportunities the BYC continues to provide. So be present, take it all in, and be thankful.

 

Daniel Wentworth ’01 

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BYC: Give us a brief bio about yourself and where you are now.

Daniel Wentworth:I am part of the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Deutsche Bank. My coworkers and I are responsible for carrying out and communicating the Bank’s grantmaking and volunteerism activities in the US. 

I’ve been in and around the nonprofit field my whole life but I’m new to the world of corporate citizenship. It’s fascinating to see how big companies are striving to do right by society and the environment through thoughtful philanthropy and changes in their day-to-day business practices.

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation from BYC?

DW:I sang with several choirs during and after college. I learned guitar last year and that’s been a fun, low-pressure way to sing regularly. I hum and whistle constantly; I always have at least one tune in my head.

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help prepare you for college and beyond?

DW:Singing with BYC was central to my identity and contributed a lot to my sense of self-worth, then and now. During an otherwise challenging part of my life, BYC gave me purpose, a creative outlet and close friendships with kids of all different ages and backgrounds—not to mention truly surreal opportunities that I still can’t wrap my head around. Before entering high school, I had toured internationally, collaborated with world-famous artists and composers, appeared on TV, recorded albums and performed on some of the most rarified stages in the city and the world. These experiences were foundational to my understanding of professionalism and creative excellence, and my drive to achieve both.

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC.

DW:I went to Russia with BYC when I was 12 as part of a cultural exchange program. One day my roommate and I were out on the deck of our ship rehearsing for a talent show. I had the wonderful idea of using my travel money belt as a prop and ended up tossing it, and the rubles it contained, into the water! I was shocked and crushed but found the humor in it pretty quickly. I lost half of my souvenir budget but I think the story is a pretty good souvenir.

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

DW:Keep a log of all the performances you do and save mementos from the most exciting ones.

BYC: We would love you to ask yourself something we wouldn’t know otherwise that we could add as well. Feel free to share anything, the floor is yours!

DW: I’m a freak for IKEA. I’m in awe of their designers and engineers.

 

Madolyn Accola ’07 

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Madolyn Accola: I currently work as a general music teacher and choir director at VOICE Charter School in Long Island City, Queens.  The school is a music-centered charter school in which students receive daily instruction in music.  My students have performed at choral festivals in NYC and perform annually at Islanders hockey games.  Last week I accompanied the middle schoolers at a Lena Horne tribute concert at Symphony Space.   

I am also in graduate school at Hunter College, studying Ethnomusicology and Music Education. My region of study has been music of the Balkans.  In November I presented “Dancing through the Balkans in Even and Odd meters” at the Eastern Division Kodaly Conference.  During the session, I shared my teaching methods for Balkan dance that I use with my students.  

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation from BYC?

MA: Upon graduating BYC, I attended NYU for Music Education.  During my college years I sang in a Madrigal choir that traveled to China for the ISME Conference.  During college I also studied abroad in the Czech Republic and took courses in Czech folk music, theory, and music history.  In addition to teaching for the past 5 years at VOICE, I direct a children’s choir at the West End Collegiate Church on Sundays.  I also continue to sing in a community choir in the West Village.  

BYC: How did your experience at BYC help prepare you for college and beyond?

MA: From a musicianship standpoint, BYC helped my reading abilities tremendously.  I frequently get asked to sing for choral gigs, purely based on my sight-reading abilities.  The amazing performing opportunities at BYC developed my diverse taste in music.  I will never forget learning and performing On the Transmigration of Souls.  That piece transformed what I thought of as “music”.  With my students, I feel like I can welcome composition ideas that stretch beyond the western classical realm because of the repertoire we sang in BYC.  Dealing with nerves and excitement during performance is also a huge skill that I definitely developed in BYC.  Even though we were so young in BYC, Dianne always treated us like professionals and presented us to other conductors as professionals.  

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC.

MA:I remember singing in the winter holiday concert one time during Concert Chorus.  We had this one Hebrew song with many verses, I think it was “Bashanah Haba’ah”.  For whatever reason, we all had so much trouble memorizing this piece and were going crazy trying to study it minutes before going on stage.  Dianne knew that we didn’t have the piece memorized and was really worried about it.  So during the performance, she mouthed the words so much, huge vowel shapes and consonants.  I remember ending the piece and seeing this “I can’t believe you guys didn’t memorize this”- look on Dianne’s face.  

BYC: What advice would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?

MA: I would tell current choristers to take every performance opportunity, even if it seems like a stressful time.  Things are stressful in middle school and high school, but they get harder as an adult.  BYC gives you so many amazing performance opportunities that you likely won’t come by as an adult.  I also would recommend trying out for solos no matter what.  I remember being too scared to audition for solos and then regretting it during performance.  Lastly, continue to sing after graduating.  Singing in a choir is such a joyful and unique experience.  

BYC: We would love you to ask yourself something we wouldn’t know otherwise that we could add as well. Feel free to share anything, the floor is yours!

MA: After participating in the Cross-Choral Training last year with Dianne (highly recommended!), I came away with an understanding of how deeply connected the voice is to the body.  Everything we do, the way we move, how we breathe, what we eat, transfers into the voice.  After this workshop, I started becoming more in-tune, so to speak, with the way I used my body during singing.  I also started researching natural medicine and ways to get the most nutrition from food to prevent sickness and develop immunity.  I also started going to acupuncture for relaxation help.  Long story short, I am now trying to live a very healthy lifestyle that promotes general well-being, but also healthy singing technique.  

 

Anneka Turner ’04 

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Anneka Turner: I am Anneka Turner a 29-year-old mother of one great little boy named Abbashani. I have grown up surrounded by the arts in all of its glory and have made it my mission to spread love through art music and dance. This for me is the ultimate way to enlightenment.

BYC: Tell us your funniest memory from BYC.

AT:My funniest memories from BYC is whenever we had to take a long bus ride somewhere we would remix all the songs that we were performing. Those classical songs transformed into hip-hop and jazz and pop songs. We loved it.

BYC: How did you continue to work and experiment with music after graduation?

AT:After graduating from chorus I formed my own children’s chorus. It was a gospel chorus and the children were able to do homework first and have an environment filled with music and learning after school.

BYC: You have a child and sister in the Brooklyn Youth Chorus now! That is so exciting to us. What pushed you to encourage your family members to join BYC?

AT:The great thing is that I never had to convince my mom to send my sister Omi to BYC. She saw the joy I felt attending and the friendships that developed. My mother wanted that for my sister and Omi can sing. My son Abba was singing before he was talking. We would sing together doing rounds and harmonies. I was so happy because that meant he loved music and I imagined him touring with BYC. He puts on little performances for the family acting out Lion King scenes or singing Paul Simon’s 50 ways to leave your lover. Music is a part of who we are and so is Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

BYC: Every BYC alum has a handful of songs you just cant forget. What are yours?

AT:I loved Queen Jane; that song was so sad and allowed the world to see Queen Jane as a hero. The Tudor family has been my secret obsession since I was a child and to picture the normally captivating but wicked King Henry vulnerable, emotionally weak and so in love melted my heart as we sang. Queen Jane was his hope, and if she were to live history as we know it would be very different. Another song I loved were Amazing Grace because it was a classic and the solos were highly anticipated the whole year. All of Kirk Nurock’s songs were fun and different. I even sang a solo for the song Vertigo. I think that was the title. Its funny because years later I actually developed vertigo.

BYC: What advise would you give to current choristers? If you could go back in time would you have done anything differently?

AT:I loved the Brooklyn Youth Chorus my closest friends I found right there. My biggest piece of advice would be to have fun on stage, put you in the music. That song is your story to the audience so allow them to see that in your face. You are that girl in love or that hungry old man selling milk or roses on the street. All of these song stories are your stories.