Melissa Keylock

By Michael Caruso

The Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Youthchoirs (CY) has chosen Melissa Keylock as the first full-time music director of the Pennsylvania Girlchoir (PG). The girls’ choir partners with the Keystone State Boychoir (KSB) to form the Commonwealth Youthchoirs. PG’s home base is the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill (PCCH). The church’s former music director, Mark Anderson, founded PG 13 years ago. Both CY and KSB are headquartered at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown. KSB was founded in 2001. PG boasts 140 girls drawn from 90 different schools.

“Melissa brings a staggering wealth of experience and a great love for all things children’s choir,” said Steve Fisher, CY founder and artistic director. “She is poised to apply her breadth of knowledge, formidable musical talents and deep passion for making music with young people so that the Pennsylvania Girlchoir can attain even greater choral heights in the years ahead.” Fisher is the associate music director of KSB.

Keylock will succeed Vincent Metallo, who has served as PG’s part-time music director for the past six years. “We will always be extremely grateful to Vince,” Fisher said. “His impeccable musicianship and high choral standards helped PG to blossom in incredible ways during his tenure. For a long time, the board has dreamed of having a full-time PG music director, but Vince’s other commitments precluded him from taking on a larger role. We’ve been waiting for the right person to come along – and she finally did in Melissa.”

Keylock has served as the associate director of the Princeton Girlchoir since 2007 and has been an adjunct professor at Rider University. Previously she worked as director of admissions and recruitment for the American Boychoir School, located in Princeton, NJ. She holds a bachelor of music education degree from Wheaton College and a master of music degree in conducting from Butler University.

I met up with Keylock and CY managing director Martha Platt recently at PCCH. Keylock explained that she had attended several concerts presented by PG and knew members of its staff.

“When I learned that the board was interested in hiring a full-time music director,” she recalled, “and that Vince (Metallo) was not interested in taking on the position, I was eager to begin a conversation with the organization. I was looking for a youth choir to direct because I wanted to spend more time working with singers rather than in administration. I felt that it was time for me to return to making music with young people. And I was especially attracted to Pennsylvania Girlchoir because of its relationship with the Keystone State Boychoir under the umbrella of Commonwealth Youthchoirs.”

Keylock told me that she considers education to be an integral part of a music director’s job. “It’s important for the music director to be involved with teaching a healthy vocal technique and breath support with the youngest singers all the way up to the most advanced,” she continued. “Because Vince filled a part-time position, he was unable to work with all of the girls. He only worked directly with the more advanced levels of singers. As a full-time music director, I’ll be able to work with all of the girls from the very beginning.

“I also want to work with them on what I call musicianship. I want to set and achieve benchmarks for reading music so that the girls can work more independently and so that we can learn more repertoire more quickly. I want them to be literate musicians and not just singers, because I want them to be able to make and keep music a part of their lives for their entire life.

“I want them to learn stage presence, how to show expression when they sing, so that they can make their singing a part of the larger community and share with that larger community the beauty of music.”

Both Keylock and Platt spoke of the importance of introducing the girls of PG to what is often called “world music,” that is, the music of cultures other than the Western tradition of classical and popular music. This often entails learning to sing in languages and in rhythms far removed from European traditions. Such repertoire often offers a look into an entirely different way of life.

“I also want to be deeply involved with recruitment,” Keylock assured. “Of course, we always hope that the girls tell their friends what a wonderful experience singing in Pennsylvania Girlchoir is, but it’s also important they I be able to get out there into the community and promote the choir.”

Platt explained that one-third of PG’s funding comes from dues paid by the girls; another third comes from income earned from performances, and the final third comes from fundraising. “Donations from individuals and foundations,” she explained.

“The Keystone State Boychoir has 200 singers,” Keylock pointed out. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t have the same.”

The Pennsylvania Girlchoir will host two Open Houses at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church Mondays, Sept. 18 & 25, from 4:15 through 8:30 p.m. The choir will present its Holiday Concert Sunday, Dec. 3, 3 & 6 p.m., at PCCH. It will join up with the Keystone State Boychoir for a second Holiday Concert Sunday, Dec. 17, 5 p.m., in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia.

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