By Michael BRUER
The Chamber Singers of La Cañada High School is arguably the most close-knit group on campus. Their unity and cohesion has been charmingly likened to a cult-like mentality by fellow classmates. The 32 members who make up the choir are a group of sophomores, juniors and seniors. Those 16 young men and 16 young women recently found out that they had won the Locals Vocals High School Sing-off, sponsored by classical public radio station KUSC.
Marshaled by their choir director and La Cañada resident Dr. Jeff Brookey, the Chamber Singers beat out a number of larger schools, including Mira Costa High School Vocal Ensemble and the Tesoro High School Madrigals Choir. This accomplishment is especially significant for that very reason – that compared to the two runner ups, LCHS is the smallest in population.
To the winners go the spoils, which includes a live performance on a nationally broadcast radio show, “From The Top” on Jan. 18 presented by the Pacific Symphony at the Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. For winning the inaugural contest, the choir has their community and choir director to thank. Over 4,000 votes were cast for LCHS, underscoring the importance of word of mouth and the strength of the La Cañada Flintridge community.
In his sixth year at LCHS, Dr. Brookey is pleased with his students’ accomplishments.
“I’m really proud of the students, they work hard,” he said. “Every year … they bring a certain level of high performance and standards, and we are appreciated by audiences and fans. But it’s particularly nice to be recognized outside our community.”
Now in his 21st year of teaching, Dr. Brookey also spoke on what makes this group so exquisite.
“We have a select group – they audition to be in it. Some years we have different strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately these are students who really excel,” Dr. Brookey said. “They work hard, and are intrinsically motivated to bring out the best quality that they can with the music that they perform.”
Many members of the choir stressed the importance of the surrounding community, including senior and bass singer Eric Engler.
“I was excited, especially because, looking at the other schools that were there, we are actually the smallest of the three schools in the final round – a fact that is a testament to the community that supports the choir program,” said Engler. “It’s nice to have external recognition. All of us in the group have an incredible amount of pride for what we do. We love what we create. It gives us confirmation of something we already knew – confirmation of how special this program is to us.”
Fellow senior and baritone Blake Scott echoed those sentiments.
“I think it’s a recognition of both our choir’s ability and Dr. Brookey’s talent,” Scott said.
Scott is in his third and final year as a Chamber Singer member.
“My experiences in choir have so shaped how I see the world. I actually wrote my personal statement [for college] about that experience. The choir department has really taught me the importance of community, the value of being in a tight-knit group. It’s almost like an everyday clinic in leadership – Dr. Brookey is a mover and a shaker. He gets stuff done, he is focused and determined with what he wants, but he doesn’t sacrifice integrity, or his relationships, in order to do that.”
Although only in her first year with the choir, Abigail Rosen has enjoyed the benefits of working with such a cohesive unit.
“This is a great class, because you’re working hard and accomplishing things, but you’re having fun at the same time,” said Rosen. “There’s never a day in chamber when I haven’t laughed really hard – it’s just magical every single day.”
That unity is at the core of the group, a group that has become quite taken with one of their pieces, “There Will Be Rest” by Frank Ticheli. Based on a poem by Sara Teasdale, the lyrics of the song struck a chord with the choir members who were profoundly affected by the tragic loss of a fellow classmate earlier this year. The lyrics and melody of the piece are especially meaningful to Rosen.
“It’s beautiful and a great piece that brings me and my peers a lot of consolation,” she said. “It reminds me that this group of people will be there for me even in dark times.
Co-president and senior Nora Sagal appreciates her Chamber Singers class as well.
“I love chamber so much and I look forward to it every day. It’s essentially like hanging out with my best friends, and we all happen to sing,” Sagal said. “Dr. Brookey is like a parent or a guide who rounds us all up for rehearsal. We can be grumpy about it, and he is so good at making us the best we can be.”
Tickets for the Costa Mesa concert can be purchased for $20 through the Pacific Symphony website, www.pacificsymphony.org.