Brookey Keeps LCHS Choral Music Program Humming

La Cañada High School choral director Jeff Brookey leads the audition vocal ensemble for grades 9-12 as it performs warmups for the voice.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
La Cañada High School choral director Jeff Brookey leads the audition vocal ensemble for grades 9-12 as it performs warmups for the voice.

La Cañada High School students are so eager to raise their voices in song that their choral music director, Jeff Brookey, decided to create another audition choir this year because of the popularity of the program that now has more than 330 students.
“It’s a good thing,” said Brookey, who has been in his current position since 2008, “because kids come and go and not everyone stays all the way through. The reason why I needed to start another choir is because, assuming a lot of people continue, we’re not going to have room for everybody. We’re already really big right now.”
Brookey said the program’s number of students could be closer to 400 in the next two years.
“The reason why I started the other concert choir class, which was called vocal ensemble, is to try to not make the audition classes too large,” Brookey said. “If I didn’t start this class, my concert choir would have been 100 people, which we did have a couple of years ago, and it’s just too big. I’m making these changes to try to help with crowd control.”
There are 332 students in the program, said Paulette Osorio, a publicity chair for the LCHS choir program. They represent about 16% of the LCHS student body, currently at 2,074 pupils.
Brookey took a look at last year’s choirs, which had three groups that required an audition —7/8 vocal ensemble as well as concert choir and chamber singers. This year, he decided to have four groups that need an audition — the 7/8 honor choir, vocal ensemble for grades 9-12, concert choir for grades 10-12 and chamber singers for grades 10-12.
Choirs that are open to any student without an audition are women’s and men’s ensembles for grades 7-12.
Shamima Khaja, a 13-year-old at LCHS 7/8 who is in the women’s ensemble class, said she appreciated the change from the 7/8 audition choir to the non-audition ensemble.
“I think it’s better,” Khaja said. “Now we have high schoolers to help us get better, and they can teach us different things.”
La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said many factors have helped make the program — which has been around since the 1960s — such a popular institution.
Brookey is “such an outstanding educator and teacher and really connects with the kids,” Sinnette said. “I think it’s also because we have a lot of talent in our student population and he hones that and takes it to the next level. They build a really tight-knit community. There’s a lot of camaraderie among the kids. They do extremely well in the competitions they perform in, and the travel component is a big draw.”
Brookey said that through the program he tries to make a very caring environment and a safe place for students.
“We talk about a new Wellness Center, but this has been a wellness center for years,” he said. “Because people know they can walk in and they’re not going to be judged. Everyone’s welcome.”
Students in the program feel a big reason for the popularity is Brookey. Ryan King, a junior who is in the vocal ensemble, said Brookey’s methods are unique in that he can be positive and nice but still teach really well.
“The last two years I was in men’s ensemble … and it’s not an audition choir and half the people may not really know how to sing,” said King, 15. “The amount of progress you see just halfway through the year. … It sounds like a professional choir compared to some other choirs we see at the choir festival. I think that’s just amazing, that we have such a great teacher who’s able to take a group of people and make them sound like they’ve been doing this for years.”
Elisa Booth, an LCHS freshman who also participates in the vocal ensemble, believes Brookey not only is a great teacher but is invested in keeping a positive environment in the classroom.
“He doesn’t want any negativity going around between anybody,” Booth said. “He makes sure we’re all friends or at least we can tolerate each other. He’s very invested in his kids’ lives. You feel like everybody has something personal with him. Everybody can ask about anything.”
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said Brookey was a “brilliant educator” who sets high expectations and works tirelessly with his students to enable them to achieve their goals.
He added that the program has a great group of dedicated parent supporters and the entire caring community is felt by the students.
“I think choir is so popular at our school because it has levels where all can be successful independent of their vocal training, and this translates directly in the ability to have really memorable experiences that provide students chances to perform both near and far away from home,” Cartnal said.
The first performance of the season is at the Pops Scholarship Concert, set for 7:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at LCHS. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.
For more information, visit lchschoral.org.

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