The first Essex County Choral Festival called Sing Out! was held on March 6, 2011 at the Newark Museum with the purpose of using choral music to celebrate the diversity of Essex County. The founder and Artistic Director, Jason Asbury, had witnessed the power of choral music to unite people of different faiths, ethnicities, socio-economic status, and other various identities through a group he co-founded in Maplewood, New Jersey called Voices In Harmony. This festival was an expansion of that vision to a county-wide initiative.
Nearly 300 singers from the Newark Boys Chorus, North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club, Maplewood Glee Club, Voices In Harmony, Kol Dodi, Essex Chorale, The Oratorio Society of New Jersey, and Elmwood United Presbyterian Celebration Mass Choir joined voices that afternoon to express their unique identities. The Newark Museum was chosen as a venue because it is located in the county seat of Essex County and because it serves a neutral and common space for people of all identities to gather.
The festival opened with all choirs singing a commissioned piece called Song of the Universal by Essex County composer, David Snyder. David used the Walt Whitman text to give voice to the metaphorical seeds of perfection that are sown in each of us. Each choir performed two or three selections, and then performed a second combined piece to close the program. The concert was attended by nearly five hundred audience members from around the county.
Since the 2011 festival, participant choirs have collaborated in four concerts, a documentary has been released about the festival, and an informal afternoon of singing for Essex County singers was hosted by the Newark Boys Chorus School in March, 2012. We continue to expand the vision of this festival by including more choirs and demonstrating the ways in which choral music can be used to express identity and build community.
In March 2013, the second festival was held and again narrated by Dr. Clement Price. Jacques Lacombe, conductor of the New Jersey Symphony, conducted the festival pieces, including Aaron Copland’s The Promise of Living from The Tender Land and Samuel Barber’s Sure On This Shining Night sung by all choirs. Choirs included Elmwood United Presbyterian Church Celebration Mass Choir, Kol Dodi, Maplewood Glee Club, Newark Boys Chorus, Montclair State University Singers, North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club and Voices In Harmony.