The sound envelops you as you walk into the new mixed-media art exhibition, AloneTogether by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC), where young choristers share their words and emotions in recorded poetry, songs and conversations about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives during a long year of isolation.
As the music draws you in, the striking mural to the right, in black and white of the many faces of the children – more than 500 members of the Chorus participated – all in masks, demands pause, their solemn eyes an invitation into their thoughts and souls. Located at the High Line Nine gallery nestled under the famous former rail tracks-turn-park in West Chelsea, the exhibition was designed to do exactly that: pull in and captivate the viewer to interact with the displays now on view until December 19.
“I wanted to create a place, a cocoon-like feeling when you walk in, so you can go into the minds of the young person,” said Francisco J. Núñez, founder and artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus, and who conceptualized and curated the exhibition after listening to the stories the children were sharing while locked away at home during the pandemic.
A highly established composer, sought after conductor and 2011 MacArthur Fellow, Núñez formed the Young People’s Chorus 33 years ago with the idea of bringing young people together “using music as a hook” where they could grow and experience great opportunities, within the arts and beyond, much like he did.
“Music saved me,” he said, sharing how growing up in Washington Heights of mixed nationality and culture, he was given a piano as a child that kept him home practicing after school, eventually leading to a college scholarship, and opening up a diverse world of other musicians very early in life that he would not have met otherwise.
It is this diversity and opportunity that Núñez has held fast to in serving as leader of the vast award-winning chorus of close to 2,000 children, ranging from 8 to 18 years of age, of different races and varying socio-economic backgrounds, all united by performing music of the highest standard.
“YPC is based on artistic excellence in a diverse world,” Núñez said, sharing that most members stay on for 10 years, then head off to college, having received support in tutoring and other areas of guidance they may have needed along the way. It is this support system that formed the foundation for the AloneTogether project.
“People thought children were fine because they don’t get COVID,” Núñez said of the early months of the pandemic. “The truth is, physically they were not getting ill, but it was starting to affect them mentally,” becoming overwhelming in many ways as time wore on. Parents were asking for his help to keep children engaged musically in some form; the children were sharing their fears, frustrations, confusion, starting to write their thoughts, whether in a simple text, or a poem – needing to share their feelings and connect with each other.
This gave Núñez the idea to reach out to some of his friends who were composers to ask them to write a canon for the children – short music themes that repeat – that he figured would be something easy “that they could do over Zoom, and they could sing, and they could be together.”
This evolved to eventually include “15 composers and songwriters, seven poets, three choreographers, and two filmmakers” who captured the children’s stories – their challenges and hopes – from March 2020 to March 2021 in AloneTogether. It is a touching and powerful exhibition, beautifully conceptualized and delivered with a unique opportunity to learn about children’s response to this life-altering year in their own words. “It was their story, it was the way they saw COVID,” Núñez said.
AloneTogether is on view at the High Line Nine Gallery, 507 West 27th Street and 10th Ave, until December 19. The exhibit is free but due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions, registration is required to attend. For more information about YPC, the exhibition and upcoming performances, visit: https://ypc.org/