Alyson Hernandez silently beamed as her daughter, Racquel Hernandez, 13, and the 41 other members of Percy Julian Middle School’s Jukebox choir, harmonized to songs such as Haydn’s “Gloria” and Mendelssohn’s “Laudate Pueri” during a dress rehearsal last week for what the choir’s director, Andrew Seymour, calls a “once in a generation opportunity.”
Jukebox will be performing in Peoria at the Illinois Music Educators Association State Conference on Thursday, Jan. 29. The choir was selected from among hundreds of choirs throughout the state by the 3,500-member organization through a blind audition process. The judges heard the choirs’ recordings without knowing anything about the choirs or their members.
“This invitation recognizes the group and the entire choral program as one of the very best in the state,” said Seymour.
“The members of Jukebox from the 2013-14 school year created the recordings that were selected by ILMEA to perform in 2015,” he said. “Therefore, being chosen is a reflection of the entire program over several years and all students involved, including the 250 students at Julian and over 800 singers in the choirs of District 97.”
The ILMEA is the state branch of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), a nonprofit comprising 75,000 music educators from around the country.
Seymour said that NAfME is mostly visible through its sponsorship of choir, band and orchestra festivals. The organization also provides professional support for music educators in the state.
“Being chosen to perform at the conference is the highest honor a music program can achieve within the organization,” said Seymour, who is also a music teacher at Percy Julian, a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 2001 and the source of Hernandez’s admiration.
“He’s one of the best teachers we have,” Hernandez said. “It’s just phenomenal what he does with the kids—he makes children sing!”
Hernandez said that she was determined to audition her daughter for the pubescent choir comprising 7th and 8th graders after attending a concert and witnessing how the music seemed to have transformed a group of kids who would probably much rather live out this pitch imperfect time of their lives away from the glare of stage lights and gawking parents.
“I remember when you had this high pitch voice,” Seymour said after the rehearsal to one Jukebox tenor who had come into his own during his time in the choir.
“Yeah, you were a lot shyer then,” the director said—perhaps a common refrain.
The day after the Peoria performance, Seymour will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall as a member of the Symphony Chorus—a tidbit he explicitly understated so as to keep the focus on the kids. But the kids are the ones who keep bringing Carnegie up, he noted.
“The kids think that’s pretty cool,” Seymour said.