“The Future Maestros of Brooklyn”

The Wall Street Journal

By Rebecca Bratburd | May 22, 2015

Brooklyn Youth Chorus  5-18-15 © Julienne Schaer
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
© Julienne Schaer


The Brooklyn Youth Chorus gala was very Brooklyn-y. The event, in Dumbo, was set up as a mini-version of the borough, with tables were named after subway stops and rows named after subway lines.

And guests were treated to excerpts from a piece which takes place on the F subway line from Bergen Street to Coney Island. “Aging Magician,” a four-year collaboration between composer Paola Prestini and 40 of the more than 500 choristers, who are between the ages of 7 and 19 years old. The piece will have its debut next year.

“After four years together, we’re finally letting this piece sail, and it will travel the world, which I am so thrilled about,” said Ms. Prestini, who was honored at the event.

At Monday’s dinner, composer Philip Glass said that the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is mentoring some of “the maestros of tomorrow.”

“Music is where you learn how to learn,” he said.

Though the Cobble Hill-headquartered institution is bursting at the seams with more demand than they can currently handle, Mr. Glass urged parents in the audience to sign their children up “right away.”

“The funny thing about New York is that it’s the kind of place where it seems like every seat at the table is already taken, and yet there always seems to be room for one more,” he said.

Professional Performing Arts High School senior and chorister Rahiem Williams presented honors to Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

“It’s because of you that I’m moving on to college, and it’s because of everyone out there that I’m pursuing my career in music,” he said.

Mr. Adams praised the socioeconomically diverse group for its high quality instruction and for not turning away students for financial reasons.

“When children sing together, they can live together. As we approach the uncertainty of the direction of the borough, many may find the unfamiliar sounds, and faces, and styles frightening,” Mr. Adams said. “When our children sing together, it turns the question mark of uncertainty into an exclamation point: We are going to be all right!”

After silent and live auctions, we counted on the community of musicians for a crazy dance party, and we weren’t disappointed.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus Founder and Artistic Director Dianne Berkun-Menaker joined students on the energetic dance floor as soon as one of their own, P.S. 29 fifth-grader Kai Schlichting, took to the turntables.

The 10-year-old musician performs under the banner DJ Kai Song and already has an impressive career and more social media followers than some DJs twice his age. Kai has performed at Lincoln Center as a member of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and has been DJing for seven years in addition to producing original songs.

“I always like having nice harmonies, and I also like the strange notes that don’t sound like they go together, but when you think about them, they do,” he said, noting what he’s learned from the program.

Kai has shows booked into the foreseeable future, and said, like many of his peers—at least at this event—he plans on pursuing music as a career.

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