New London Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club debuts a young Latino choir
New London ― A group of children wearing Santa hats stood on stage at the Hygienic Art Park Friday and harmoniously sang in and out of Spanish and English.
“Noche de Paz, noche de amor; Silent night, holy night,” they sang.
Associated with the New London Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, a rising Latino choir is teaching young students the value of music and culture. They performed at the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony for their second public performance.
“It’s about preserving the culture and making kids feel secure about who they are,” said Resurrección Espinosa-Frink, poet and founding director of Teatro Latino de New London, who volunteers to help with the choir.
Yanira Rosario, director of the Boys and Girls Club after-school program, said she and some after-school students attended a cultural event put on by Espinosa-Frink at Shaw’s Mansion this past year and were impressed by children singing. Rosario asked Espinosa-Frink for help and over the summer worked with the administration to start a choir.
The choir started practicing at the beginning of the school year.
Espinosa-Frink said the choir received $3,000 from the Cultural District Commission in September to pay for singing lessons and other materials. Margaret Tyler, a lead singer at Calvary Church in Stonington and a friend of Espinosa-Frink, began to teach the children.
Tyler said she practices with the students after school on Thursdays. The choir is made up of about 25 students from six to twelve years old. They are all bilingual and share Latin American ancestry.
Rosario said the students have been practicing villancicos, or traditional Spanish Christmas carols, for the holiday season and in preparation for the tree lighting ceremony. She said she has seen a big difference in the kids since joining the choir.
“Being in the choir has helped them concentrate and learn instructions,” she said.
Espinosa-Frink, wife of the late local composer Charles Frink, said she knows the value of music. She recently published a poetry book on music in Spanish called “Danza española n. 5: Poesía para la Música y el Tiempo.”
“Our culture has evolved with music,” Espinosa-Frink said. “Music is not just entertainment, it’s a human necessity.”
She said learning villancicos has helped the children find peace, singing songs about baby Jesus and being with a community.
On Friday, the children sang “25 de deciembre,” “A la Nanita Nana” and Silent Night in Spanish and English.
Diana Muñoz, 11, said she likes being in the choir because “we can share our talent and what we like to do.”
Her father, Maynor Muñoz, watched from the crowd and recorded the performance on his phone. He said he was proud to hear her sing the traditional songs.
“They are learning a lot,” he said.
Espinosa-Frink said she hopes the program will grow and the children will learn to read music and how to play an instrument or two.
Rosario said there are all sorts of activities for children in the after-school program, ranging from science to literature and art. She said some students will have an art showcase from 1-3 p.m. on Dec. 4 at Shaw’s Mansion in collaboration with the Expressiones Cultural Center.
“I welcome anyone with a talent or profession to share to get involved with the children at the club,” she said.