Fostering More Than Skills, LCHS Choral Music Raises Funds

Photo courtesy Leslie Lowes Ashley Knutson, Matthew Baker, Ellie Chapman, Logan Boggs III and La Cañada High School Choral Music Department director and conductor Jeff Brookey attend a late August parent meeting. Brookey is showing parents how the wardrobe for the concerts must be worn.
Photo courtesy Leslie Lowes
Ashley Knutson, Matthew Baker, Ellie Chapman, Logan Boggs III and La Cañada High School Choral Music Department director and conductor Jeff Brookey attend a late August parent meeting. Brookey is showing parents how the wardrobe for the concerts must be worn.

Years from now, when senior Shalini Pullarkat looks back at her three-year tenure in the La Cañada High School choral music department, she’ll vividly remember the feeling of sheer awe while singing in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
And though the trip may be one of the highlights of her choral experience, Pullarkat knows she’ll also remember the group for its tightknit closeness, a key to the program’s resounding success of 50-some years.
“A group of people can sing together and it will sound OK. But if people really love each other and get to know each other and have a bond, then it makes not only the music better, but the experience for everybody better,” the 17-year-old said.
“It has also just cultivated this environment of openness and honesty with other people and acceptance,” she added, noting that the diversity of ages within different grades helps foster growth.
On Friday, the group will assist in fundraising to pay that harmony forward, and help to ensure another year of eye-opening travel and repertoire. The choral music department’s 9-12 Pops Scholarship Concert, the group’s major annual fundraiser, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, at the La Cañada High School Auditorium.
“This is uniquely solos, duets, small groups — a lot of it is arranged by the students,” said choral director and conductor Jeff Brookey. “They do their own arrangements, they provide their own live music, whether accompanying themselves or having other students accompany them. It’s just a great fundraiser because it’s great entertainment. And the kids are really good. It’s a great concert to go to and all proceeds will go to the scholarship. We want to pack it out because all the money goes directly to the students who are in need.”
Tickets for the show are $10 for adults, $5 for students in grades 7-12 and college students, and free for K-6 students.
Brookey said the choral department, which this year has seven choirs and about 300 students in the program, has been around since the 1960s.
“Even though this is an affluent area, this is not an affluent public school,” Brookey said. “We do not get the funds the other schools get. I don’t even have a budget. I couldn’t even order a box of pencils.”
He said it basically takes about $120 per student for the bare minimum, including transportation, programs, music, wardrobe and the rental fee at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena for performances.
“They don’t have a facility in our town to hold us,” Brookey said. “We’re too big. We have to pay thousands of dollars a year to rent a venue. Just basic needs cost a lot. I think if the school had money they would help, but they don’t have a lot.”
The Choral Parents Association, an organization of parent volunteers established in 1998, has been crucial in organizing ways to fund the group’s ambitious travel program.
Michelle Morgan, co-president of the CPA, said when she was in the program in the early 1990s the farthest the program would travel was Ojai.
“We didn’t have a choral parent association at the time,” Morgan said. “It was just like a field-trip slip and parents would pay what they could. And it was like four or five days to Ojai and back.”
“The growth of the program has been amazing to witness,” Brookey said, “especially now with its national and international performances. Last school year, apart from traveling to and performing in Italy, the group also performed in New Orleans and Seattle.”
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of money, but I think — I know — it’s worth it,” Brookey said. “This is my 26th year teaching and I still have kids from 20 years ago say, ‘Oh, I remember when we sang here in some place,’ and I know it’s meaningful for them.”
For Pullarkat, the chamber singers’ president, the memories of performing in New Orleans and singing at the Sistine Chapel will last a lifetime.
“I remember after Italy, this is something that really struck me, everybody on the plane home or everybody I was around had gotten paper and pens to write it down,” Pullarkat said. “Basically, journal everything that happened because they didn’t want to forget it. That was a poignant image to me because … different types of people all wanted to remember the same memories. They all recognized how valuable this is. Even now I kind of go back to those memories and it’s great to have. It’s enriching.”
For more information on the choral music department and its schedule, visit lchschoral.org. To participate in the group’s fundraising efforts, people can place an ad inside its annual program until Tuesday, Sept. 25, or donate money through the group’s website.

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