By LINDA M. LINONIS
Jon Simsic has an ear for music and an eye for talent.
The director of the Salem Youth Chorus used those two skills to form the group in 2007. The chorus will present three concerts this weekend.
Simsic brings his own musical background to the chorus. The Akron resident is organist and choir director at St. Joseph Church in Canton. Previously, he was assistant conductor and chorus master with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and, at Youngstown State University, directed the university chorus and was involved in theater.
The chorus grew out of his involvement with a youth-theater program in Salem. “I knew the kids. I heard the makings of a smaller, select choral ensemble,” he said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to sing musically challenging pieces.”
Simsic said chorus members, numbering 18, range in age from younger teens to early-college age, both male and female. “A lot are involved in music and theater in school,” he said. Some, he added, are studying music and theater at Youngstown State University. Two original members are Tony Casacchia, a student at Northeast Ohio Medical University, and Drew Bostwick, a chemistry student at Kent State University.
Members audition to earn a place in the chorus. Simsic tests “their ability to learn” at the audition. Rehearsals take place once a week, alternating between sites in Boardman and Salem.
Simsic said he wants the experience for chorus members to be challenging, uplifting and educational. “For them, I want the program to have educational merit so they learn something from it. But I also want them to enjoy singing.”
The chorus will give “Loving Shepherd” concerts at area churches this weekend. Simsic described the selections as “reflective choral music” for Lent. The repertoire includes chant, as well as music by Handel, Gluck, Faure, Ledger, Chilcott and a performance of the Missa Brevis in C, “Organ solo Mass,” KV 259 by Mozart. The Mozart selection is in Latin. He said the music “references” Christ as the Good Shepherd, citing “Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep.”
Simsic said the selections are “really demanding and not the norm” but they are not “elitist.”
The director said the challenging music “brings out individual excellence in talent that blends with other excellent voices.” He commended members on their “teamwork” and “how they challenge one another” to do their best.
Simsic said the level of talent provides “great role models” while motivating members.
For the audience, Simsic said he hopes they enjoy the energy and diversity of the music and immerse themselves in the program, “really listening to the music and text.”
Simsic said he’s in the process of planning the chorus’s summer concert tour. The annual tour has taken the group to a variety of locations. For example, the chorus has traveled on a United Kingdom tour, where it sang at Salisbury Cathedral in England, St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin and Newport Cathedral in Wales. The chorus has been featured at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and gave a concert at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg and a choral evensong at Washington National Cathedral.
For the past four years, the singers have been the guest choir at the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngstown.