Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts and Savannah Friends of Music are presenting their sixth invitational choir festival, Savannah Sings 2019, hosted by Garrison’s choir director John Tisbert, with special guest conductor and Artist-in-Residence Francisco J. Núñez.
This year promises to be extraordinary as Núñez is the founder and director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The YPC has been touring the world, representing the U.S. in international events and racking up accolades. It was recently named Choir of the World at the International Choral Kathaumixw in British Columbia and is the first North American choir to earn that distinction in the festival’s 35 year history.
“We represent the U.S. when it comes to its artistic excellence, its youth, and its diversity,” says Núñez.
“We started 30 years ago on a mission to use music to bring together people from diverse backgrounds, so I’m not using music to become the best musician,” says Núñez. “I’m using music to bring together children that would not normally get together.”
Núñez was born in New York City to an Afro-Cuban father and Caucasian mother. Coming from a culturally rich background and city, Núñez wanted to create an elite music education program that would draw from every cultural and economic background.
“I want an opportunity to bring together kids of different backgrounds, colors, religions, ethnicities, to give them the opportunity through music to find out about themselves by finding out about others,” says Núñez.
The YPC has 2,000 children in its program, which boasts a strong educational component. Núñez and his staff do everything they can to make sure their kids stay in the program and make it to practice, whether it is by providing tutors, transportation or financial assistance. “We do what’s called looking at the entire child, or wrap around education,” Núñez explains.
Most of the students stay in the program from the age of 8 until they are 18. In its 30 years of operation, YPC has had a 100 percent rate of graduating from high school on time with 100 percent of their graduates going to college.
YPC is so successful that, starting in the year 2000, Núñez began to approach composers about writing-commissions for his choir. “YPC was the first choir to actually break through the concept of getting today’s composers to write for children for the very first time,” says Núñez. “Prior to that, it was very rare that you would find a major composer writing for children. They didn’t want to be stigmatized. Today over 100 composers, all who have never written for the voice or for children, have written for YPC, and they are all what are considered concert composers and major composers.”
YPC had a recent smash with their performance of Julia Wolfe’s “Fire in My Mouth,” and recordings of other works can be heard on their “Transient Glory” music series.
Núñez is bringing 37 of his Young Men chorus to join students from Savannah’s top school and community choirs for two days of activities, culminating in a two-part concert on Feb 8. The first part of the concert will feature all of Savannah Sings’ participants in various performances. Then the YPC Young Men will join 150 selected male voices for a special showcase featuring musical theater pieces, world music, Irish and French-Canadian folk songs, and even a Billy Joel number.
“I’m very excited to work with the Savannah Sings Festival and to share with them and learn from everybody down south,” says Núñez “In our country, it is important to bring young people together so we can see we have many more similarities than differences."