Pitch Perfect: Singing the Praises of the National Children’s Chorus

The National Children’s Chorus (NCC), one of the world’s leading treble choruses, with 700 students in 18 ensembles based in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., helps budding musicians learn and grow in an extraordinary musical environment and gives them the opportunity to perform in professional music halls all around the world – one of the few youth arts organizations to do so.

Led by conductor and Artistic Director Luke McEndarfer, the children have performed in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Kennedy Center, Royce Hall, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet, Los Angeles Opera Company, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Kronos String Quartet, New York City Master Chorale and the American Youth Symphony, among many other well-known venues. They have also performed internationally in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and St. John’s Smith Square in London, England; the Great Wall of China in Beijing and the Ancient City Wall in Xian, China; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and St. Cecilia’s Music Conservatory in Rome, Italy.

In addition, the group has been featured on a myriad of movie and television soundtracks and has performed numerous times as the musical act on Jay Leno’s former Tonight Show. Some of the children are regularly contracted as solo artists for professional engagements both in the studio and on stage, including leading roles on Broadway and in opera.

The NCC leads singers from age 5 through college with an extensive, comprehensive curriculum that includes conducting, composition, music theory, sight-singing in the Kodály Method and individual voice training. Children meet weekly and work with some of the finest instructors in the nation to develop their vocal skills – tone quality, breath support and musical expression are cultivated within each singer. Through intensive choral training and high-profile performance experiences, students also learn discipline and leadership skills while developing their passion for music.

An interview with Luke McEndarfer gives us more insight into the NCC:

How should children who love to sing prepare for an audition?

Junior Division applicants need not prepare anything. Each will be asked to sing a set of scales and to match rhythm to determine the ability to access head tone, match pitch and understand rhythmic patterns. Senior Division students will be asked to do the same thing, however, they are also required to prepare a solo piece that best demonstrates the strengths of their vocal achievement thus far. We look for excellent intonation, overall musicality and dramatic expression of the text.

How are children placed in an ensemble?

Children are placed in various ensembles based on a combination of factors at the audition, including age, skill level, maturity and the ability to focus. The goal is to begin their training at the place most appropriate for them, and where they will thrive most effectively. Students are promoted by their directors when they are ready to advance to the next level.

What is your best piece of advice for children and young people who possess a love for the arts?

It’s to be patient, focused, open to learning and growing, unafraid to make mistakes and resilient and persistent in achieving what they want. We teach and imbue these attributes at every single rehearsal, as they are central to our educational and success-based methodologies.

What sparked your love for singing?

Music has always been a key source of joy in my life, and what I love most about it is that it speaks directly to the human soul, and touches every human being with its magic, regardless of race, culture or social differences. Through its universal ability to connect and bring people together, I believe it has the power to make a difference in the world, and the NCC is a tremendous example of the greatness music can bring to society. On our Instagram page, images show our 2016 performance in Xian, China, where we sang together with Chinese children in a private performance for the Chinese government with two Secretaries of State in attendance. The music, entitled “Chinese Bridge,” was all in Mandarin, composed by one of our students (who now attends Stanford as a composition major). The message was how coming together as a world community is more powerful than countries fighting with each other and undermining each other’s interests. Seeing the children perform this music together – children from two different worlds singing the same message – was one of the most powerful moments of my life, as well as for many of our staff.

How does the NCC build confidence in kids?

Building confidence, and more than that, building people is what we do. The NCC’s music is simply a bi-product of all that. More than teaching notes and rhythms, we uphold a standard of excellence and teach the values of pursuing greatness in life, no matter what you’re doing inside or outside of the music world. Many parents and students through the years have shared extraordinary stories where their involvement in the chorus has helped them overcome major adversities in their lives, and inspired them to do great things in this world (you may see some of their interviews on our YouTube video entitled “Ready for Concert, Ready for Life.” Our graduates are the greatest evidence of that. The secret is in teaching children that it is no failure to be on any given step of the journey. In fact, every great person has had to be at every single step along his or her journey at some point in time, so we learn to value and honor each moment of achievement along the way. Accepting one’s place on the journey and focusing only on taking the next step forward is a key ingredient to long-term success, which is what we groom our students for both in music and in life.

To learn more about the NCC and its upcoming events, or to schedule an audition, visit nationalchildrenschorus.com.