Five- and 6-year-olds plunk at the keyboard and sing in the lobby outside the chapel of First Presbyterian Church. Preteen girls giggle together in the pews inside the chapel. Teens work together to practice their parts.
Conductor Laura Brundage, a 2003 church music graduate and BJU music faculty, previews the day’s agenda with her assistants while her husband Steven Brundage, a 2009 BJU piano pedagogy graduate and the chorale’s accompanist, welcomes children at the door. The excitement in the air is typical of prerehearsal while the Greenville Youth Chorale waits for choir members to arrive.
Founded in 2019, the Greenville Youth Chorale teaches children how to sing. “We’re providing the choral experience to anybody, no matter their background,” said Steven, GYC’s executive director.
“Some of that has to do with our philosophy of singing and that we believe that we can take any group of kids and turn them into a successful choir, a choir that sounds good and a choir that sings well.”
Steven and Laura Go to BJU
As the daughter of recently retired BJU faculty members Warren and Jean Cook, Laura grew up in music and was bound for BJU from an early age. “I didn’t ever really want to go anywhere else,” she said. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2003, she completed a master’s degree in voice performance in 2007 and stayed on as music faculty.
“I was very happy that I got to stay and work with my parents. So, I’m super sad that they just both retired,” she said.
It was in her first year of teaching that Laura met Steven, who had come to BJU at the recommendation of his piano teacher. “I had come for a nationals (competition) at AACS, and that was my first visit, I believe,” he said.
Aside from competing the one time at the University, Steven’s piano teacher was his only connection to BJU. “My piano teacher recruited me, basically,” he said, “because she was an alumnus. That’s literally it.”
As a junior, Steven accompanied during one of Laura’s voice students’ lessons, and it was kismet. The couple married two years later.
GYC Goes Virtual
Steven and Laura took their love for music and their love for children and combined it to form Greenville Youth Chorale. Though the GYC is offered on a registration basis, the chorale does provide scholarships to those who qualify and partners with local outreaches such as the Frazee Center.
The GYC had just taken off when the COVID-19 pandemic cut off choir participation in the spring of 2020. “When COVID hit, we didn’t intend to do anything virtual,” said Steven. Yet the chorale was one of the first in Greenville to perform as a virtual choir.
When the statewide shutdowns were ordered, the GYC only had a few rehearsals before its spring concert. “We wanted to keep the train rolling, and we realized that this wasn’t just going to go away in a month,” Steven said.
The first video the group produced was “A Million Dreams” from the popular motion picture The Greatest Showman. The video was well received by internet audiences and received media coverage. “Nobody around Greenville was doing it,” Steven said.
As a result of the popularity of the first video, the Brundages decided to do a second video, this one featuring the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and a personal friend who happened to be a Broadway star. Patrick Dunn, cast as Jean Valjean in the suspended 2020 North American tour of Les Misérables, agreed to sing in the GYC’s virtual choir cover of “Bring Him Home.”
Said Dunn: “With the virtual choir, I had no concept of how epic it was going to be.” Yet he said he’d come to trust the people at BJU and those connected with the University enough that he was willing to say, “Whatever you want.”
“It’s just kind of built around this trust that I’ve come to know people from BJU have and the quality of their work,” he said.
As a result of these two videos, the Brundages were contacted by local choir and orchestra leaders and music teachers who wanted to learn how to conduct virtual choirs.
“Those first two virtual choirs were us giving to the community,” Steven said. “And, honestly, it built greater bridges in the Greenville arts community than we ever could have through our season. It really pushed us forward in the eyes of Greenville County school teachers because we were the first ones doing it, and after that moment, we became the touchstone for teachers producing their own virtual choirs.”
Guest Performers Turn Mentor
The videos also cued an idea for the Brundages: to bring in artists to perform with and mentor GYC singers. In addition to recording the “Bring Him Home” video with Dunn, the chorale also recorded “Silent Night” with local concert pianist Emile Pandolfi in December 2020.
“It’s part of GYC’s mission and vision to provide our singers with exceptional opportunities to perform alongside world-class talent so as to inspire them and to provide unforgettable and galvanizing musical moments that, hopefully, change their thinking and feeling about music for the better,” Steven said.
Said Steven: “This project for GYC has opened my eyes to what’s possible moving forward.”
Learn more about joining or giving to the Greenville Youth Chorale on their website.