CORONAVIRUS: Concerts, Updates, Schedules and A Moment of Comfort

Founded in 1993 and comprised of auditioned treble singers, The Bel Canto Youth Chorus has developed an international reputation for performing diversified choral repertoire at the highest standard of musical excellence and style.

Concert Choir – for children 12-18 years old (or 6th through 12th grade). Girls and boys with unchanged voices.
Preparatory Choir – for children 6-12 years old (or 3rd through 7th grade. Girls and boys with unchanged voices.
Intermediate Choir – for children 10-14 years old (or 5th through 8th grade). Girls and boys with unchanged voices.
Knabenchor – for boys ages 6 – 14 (or 3rd through 7th grade) with unchanged voices.

Noted for the innovative, artistic programs it presents, the choir has been invited to perform for numerous music conferences, including ACDA, NAfME, PMEA, and AGO conferences.  Tours have taken the choir to Central Europe, Italy, Ireland, Canada, England, Oregon, Brooklyn, Disneyworld, Ohio, and twice to Hawaii for the Pacific Rim Children’s Choral Festival under the direction of Henry Leck. The choir program merged with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem in 2018, providing their choral music education program.  The choir has been under the direction of Dr. Joy Hirokawa since its founding.

 Bel Canto’s response to COVID-19, summarized in this 5-minute video

What's New?

Come Sing with Us at Our Next
Open House October 12, 6:30pm

Knabenchor – (German for “Boy Choir”)

Knabenchor is open to boys in grades 3-8 with little or no experience as a chorister. Boys will learn to sing and read music through games, and other activities. Rehearsals take place on the open-air porch at the historic Heckewelder House, 440 Heckewelder Place in downtown Bethlehem.

Rehearsals focus on choral skills, ensemble building, music theory, rhythm training, performance practice, and more, all with the individual attention that is possible with COVID-19 safety guidelines for in-person sessions as well as the virtual environment.

  • Weekly rehearsals on Monday evenings from 6:30 – 7:45 with appropriate breaks. (Please see the detailed schedule.)
  • Scheduled Saturday rehearsals, 2 – 3 per semester.
  • One 20-minute individual session per semester via FaceTime or Google Duo with Dr. Hirokawa to work on vocal technique, musicianship skills, or individual coaching on the music. Additional times may be scheduled by request.

Directed by Dr. Joy Hirokawa.

The house is named for John Heckewelder, famed Indian missionary, interpreter, and author of works on [Native] Indians. The house was erected in 1810, and is also the administrative offices of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem.  Register to audition OR to attend the next Open Rehearsal on Monday, October 12th from 6:30-7:45 pm here.


Interested in Auditioning, sign up here.

Despite the many musical opportunities The Bel Canto Youth Chorus offers during the year, the auditions remain low-key and enjoyable and no music needs to be prepared in advance. Singers will be asked to introduce themselves, sing a Major scale, and a familiar song like “Happy Birthday,” or “The National Anthem.” This will help our music director better understand their current level of musical ability.

Interested singers have the option to have a live audition via zoom, or in-person with COVID-19 safety guidelines. Auditions for new choristers can be scheduled throughout December for Knabenchor and Preparatory Choirs. Interested singers are encouraged to apply early.

The next auditions for the Concert Choir will be held in May 2021.

To learn more about the process or to schedule an audition, please contact the Bel Canto Chorus Administrator by phone 610-866-4382, ext. 116 or email:

Tuition Assistance and payment plans available- contact us for more information.
Curious? Virtually attend a rehearsal to see what it’s all about! Please contact the office to arrange a time! Call 610-866-4382 x116 or email

Please complete the background informational survey to request an audition time.

2020-21 Program Offerings

Programs 2020-21

Virtual Summer Choral Village

Stand Up Summer Camp


As large group gatherings are currently not safe, ensemble performances will be audio and video recorded, and presented on our scheduled concert dates in a streamed watch party. This will enable families to share their chorister’s musical accomplishments with friends and family virtually.

  • Virtual Winter Concert – December 5, 2020
  • Bach Choir of Bethlehem Virtual Christmas Concert – December 13, 2020 (one piece from CC)
  • Spring Concert – May 1, 2020 (virtual or live TBD)

Concert Choir and invited Knabenchor choristers will participate in the 2021 Bach Festival performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, circumstances allowing, in May 2021. These will be the final performances led by Artistic Director, Greg Funfgeld, who is retiring at the end of this season. A determination will be made in early 2021 on the feasibility of these performances.

Professional Development

Want to find out about our Professional Development Resources?

We are currently planning for the third Choral Director’s workshop. It will be open to all levels of classroom, community, and faith-based choral directors. If you are interested in receiving information about the next professional development workshop, please add your name to our email list here.

Choral Music Teacher Workshop Professional Development

Dr. Jason Vodicka & Dr. Joy Hirokawa, clinicians
Saturday, January 25th, 2020 – Reflections

Our annual professional development day for Choral Music Educators was held on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at Christ Lutheran Church in Allentown. Attendees included a WIDE variety of choral conductors – from church musicians dealing with aging voices with out of control wobbles to elementary general music teachers working with our youngest singers. Sessions covered teaching strategies that were applicable to every age group, and every attendee had something to offer to our discussions. We are grateful that our choral director community has such generous and supportive individuals, and hope that more of you can join us next year!  We hosted Dr. Jason Vodicka from Westminster Choir College for a workshop on incorporating Group Vocal Technique, Gordon Music Learning Theory, and Critical Pedagogy into any choral rehearsal.

Workshop Description
Using the accessible octavo “Shady Grove” arranged by Tom Shelton, Jason presented a wide variety of possible teaching approaches for a choral setting. The workshop included theory backed up by actual application to a learning environment, demonstrated Group Vocal Technique, Gordon Music Learning Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and other approaches. The workshop provided participants with pedagogical ideas to explore to support the work they do with singers.

The workshop included the following themes:

  1. Distracted Music-ing: Music as a Multitask:  Creating rehearsals that teach discrete skills within a musically empowering context (60 mins).
  2. The Choral Warm-up: Building Vocal Skill through Group Vocal Technique (60 mins).
  3. Singing in Context: Applying language-based “sight before sound” techniques to build choral literacy (100 minutes).
  4. Please Talk in My Rehearsal: Strategies to engage singers in musical and social dialogue (50 minutes).

8:30 – 9:00     Coffee, Conversations, Connections!
9:00 – 12:00    Workshop
12:00 – 1:00    Lunch (Box lunch may be purchased with registration.)
1:00 – 3:00     Workshop

5 hours of ACT-48 credit was made available by working with the school districts for each participant who wished to add this workshop for their professional development.


Conductor and educator Jason Vodicka is an Assistant Professor of Music Education at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in music education, mentors student teachers, and teaches summer courses in conducting pedagogy for in-service musicians. Prior to his appointment at Westminster, Dr. Vodicka was Coordinator of Music Education at Susquehanna University where he taught courses in music education, conducted the University Chorale, and founded the Susquehanna University High School Choral Institute. During this time he was also Music Director of the Harrisburg Choral Society and Orchestra, a community ensemble founded in 1895. For nine years, Dr. Vodicka was a vocal music instructor at Pennsbury High School in Lower Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A versatile musician and educator, Dr. Vodicka has worked as a church musician for more than twenty years.

Dr. Vodicka holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in music education from Westminster Choir College and a doctorate in conducting from the University of Georgia. He is a 2017 inductee into the Westminster Music Education Hall of Fame. Dr. Vodicka is in frequent demand as a clinician and guest conductor. He is the author of several publications including chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Choral Pedagogy and James Jordan’s Inside the Choral Rehearsal: Harmonic Rehearsal Teaching and Learning Based on the Music Learning Theory of Edwin E. Gordon. He is the chief author of the Inside the Choral Rehearsal teaching guides series available from GIA Publications.


Questions? Please email Dr. Joy Hirokawa @ or contact Silagh White, Administrator, at 610-866-4382 x116 or

The Directors and Administration

Dr. Joy Hirokawa, Founder and Artistic Director

Dr. Joy Hirokawa is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Bel Canto Youth Chorus. She earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Education from Boston University, a Masters degree in Choral Conducting from Temple University, and a Bachelors degree with honors in Music Education, also from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches a course annually at Villanova University’s Summer Music Program in working with the child’s voice. Dr. Hirokawa is a frequent guest conductor and clinician, presenting regularly at ACDA, NAfME and PMEA conferences and conducting numerous honors choirs, including the Connecticut All-State Elementary Honors Choir, the Middle School Treble Alabama All-State Chorus, the ACDA-PA All-State Middle School Honors Choir, and the ACDA-PA All-State Women’s Honor. Under her direction, The Bel Canto Youth Chorus has performed locally, nationally and internationally to great acclaim, and has appeared at ACDA, NAfME, and PMEA conferences. International tours have taken the choir to Italy, Ireland, England, and in the summer of 2013, Central Europe. Dr. Hirokawa’s published arrangements include her jazz arrangement of “My Favorite Things” and the Andalusian song “Lamma Badaa Yatathanna,” which have appeared on numerous festival programs. She is the current ACDA Eastern Division Repertoire and Standards Chair for Children and Youth Choirs and the Southeast Region Chair for ACDA-PA. Dr. Hirokawa taught in the public schools for 20 years and is now an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.

Andrea Berntsen, Collaborative Pianist

Andrea Berntsen started playing piano at age of three and became a professional accompanist at the age of thirteen. She earned a BM in Piano Performance from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and an MM in Piano and Organ Performance from the Yale University School of Music, New Haven, Connecticut. Ms. Berntsen has been an active church organist and choir director for close to fifty years and currently resides in Allentown, PA where she continues working as a church musician in addition to freelancing as a keyboard accompanist.

Silagh White, Administrator

Silagh White has more than 25 years of experience in arts management, most recently at Lehigh University-first as Director of ArtsLehigh (2005-2011) and then as Director of Arts Engagement & Community Cultural Affairs (2011-2016). Her career is also anchored in music and she has a doctorate in Bassoon Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Lehigh University. Prior to moving to the Lehigh Valley, she was director of an arts engagement program called “The Muse Machine” for the Performing Arts Council of Toledo, Ohio. She is president of the Eastern PA Arts Alliance, and a member of the Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission. She produces features for Lehigh Valley Arts Salon on the local public radio, WDIY, and has a blog/podcast called “The Audience Guide.”

Gail Grossman, Vocal Coach

Gail Grossman is the Bel Canto Vocal Coach. She has taught vocal techniques for more than four decades in the Lehigh Valley. Ms. Grossman studied voice at Indiana University, and opera in Bologna Italy. She specialized in classical voice, opera, and musical theatre. She also works extensively with singer experiencing vocal problems.

As a new education and community building program of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, the Bel Canto Youth Chorus continues to maintain policy and oversight through volunteer leadership and parent representation.

2018-2019 Governance Committee
Jennifer O’Donnell, Chair and Representative to the Bach Choir of Bethlehem Board of Directors
Elizabeth Campbell, Parent Auxiliary Chair
Catharine Roseberry, Recording Secretary
Jesse Gehman, Bel Canto Alumn & Bach Choir of Bethlehem
Brandon Kendall, Concert Choir Parent
Lindsay Whitman, Preparatory/Intermediate Choir Parent
Silagh White, Administrator of Bel Canto Youth Chorus
Joy Hirokawa, Founder and Artistic Director of Bel Chanto Youth Chorus
Bridget George, Executive Director of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem

Virtual Choral Village 2020

Connect ~ Communicate ~ Create

The Virtual Choral Village (July 27 – 31, 2020), an on-line week of exploring and processing the stories of Spring 2020 through music-making, conversing, drumming, improvising, and creating, geared for youth entering grades 8 – 12 in Fall 2020.

For youth interested in:

  • connecting through artistic expression, exploring new ways to use their voices, ears, and cultural rhythms
  • communicating with other youth from different locales, with different life experiences, telling different stories
  • creating a new artistic expression with these new colleagues

The Daily Schedule:

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Vocal warmup and improvisation
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Dialogue and Community Building
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Drumming
2:30 PM – 4:30 PM Creative project work with coaching by the clinicians
4:30 PM – 5:00 PM End of the day Check-In

Friday at 4:00 PM was a presentation of the creative projects of the week.

The Virtual Choral Village Team of Expert Clinicians

Our team is experienced in facilitating dialogue, leading vocal improvisation, and instructing drum circles.

Dr. Joy Hirokawa (Vocal Instructor and Director of Choral Village) is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. She formerly led the music education program at Moravian College for ten years, was an adjunct instructor at Temple University, and was Director of the Lafayette College Concert Choir. Dr. Hirokawa is a published arranger and frequent guest conductor and clinician, presenting regularly at ACDA, NAfME, and PMEA conferences. She is the ACDA National Repertoire and Resources Chair for Children and Youth Choirs. Dr. Hirokawa taught in public schools for 20 years prior to teaching at the collegiate level.

Jennie Gilrain (Theater Artist-Educator) has worked for 20 years as an actor, director, and teacher with Touchstone Theatre, 10 years as an adjunct professor with the Lehigh University Department of Theater and 13 years as a teacher with the Bethlehem Area School District. Most recently, Gilrain directed The Secret, an exploration of the celebrated feminist writer and LGBTQ icon Hilda Doolittle with Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre (2020). Gilrain also curated Finding H.D., A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle with partners Lehigh University, the Bethlehem Area Public Library, Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center, and Mock Turtle Marionette Theater. Gilrain graduated from the Lecoq International School of Theatre and Laboratory for the Study of Movement and is currently in the Education Leadership doctoral program at Lehigh University.

Joseph Tayoun (World Drumming) is an accomplished Middle Eastern percussionist. He started playing by the early age of eight at his family’s renowned Middle East Restaurant in Philadelphia where live, authentic Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Armenian, Greek, and Israeli music and dance was performed nightly for over forty years. Learning from the area’s top Middle Eastern musicians, Joe became adept at the many styles of drumming within these different ethnicities. He performs with various Middle Eastern and World Music ensembles locally, regionally, and internationally, as well as conducting workshops and masterclasses at schools and universities. Joseph has been the recipient of several noteworthy grants from such organizations including the: NEA, PCA, PAEP, and the State Department. He is a Teaching/Artist-In-Residence at Independence Charter School, an award-winning K through 8th school in Center City Philadelphia where he instructs a Hands-On Global Arts class and directs the new World Drumming Corps for the Middle School. Joe is also Artist-In-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archeology where he regularly instructs Middle Eastern Drumming classes in the Egyptian Gallery for adults.

Tuition: $200 – Scholarships available for Lehigh Valley, PA students

Registration is closed
Stay tuned for dates for Summer 2021

Enrollment is limited to 20 students!

While we are based in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, USA, we also welcome youth from other areas to join our exploration of shared and diverse experiences of the last five months.

* Exciting news! * 
An article about Bel Canto’s Choral Village program, written by Joy Hirokawa, Bel Canto’s Founder and Artistic Director,  was published online in Choral Journal and will be the lead article in the print magazine. It will also be included in an upcoming book based on articles that came out of the Relevance Symposium where Joy presented information behind Choral Village.

See Video Gallery for a Peek into the Choral Village

Video Gallery

Chamber Choir performs The National Anthem, August 22, 2019 at Coca-Cola Park.


Appalachian Festival of Young Voices
Charleston, West Virginia
June 2021
Festival Conductor: Rollo Dilworth

Festival Activities:

  • 4 night stay in Charleston’s luxurious Embassy Suites Hotel

  • Performance with a traditional string band and orchestra

  • Individual choir performances each night in the Embassy Ballroom

  • Festival choir performance at Charleston’s Civic Center Little Theater

  • Participation in Charleston’s city-wide FestivALL when the city becomes a work of art!

  • Outstanding opportunity to work with Dr. Rollo Dilworth

  • Q&A Session with Dr. Dilworth, singer/songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler and singer/songwriter Ron Sowell

  • Square dancing with a live band and storytelling with a West Virginia artist

  • Farewell party with a live DJ on the River Queen riverboat.

Why we travel

  • Builds cohesiveness in the choir
  • With more cohesiveness, they perform better!
  • When they perform better, they reach new heights of musicianship & musicality
  • Educational opportunities
  • Musical opportunities
  • Broaden horizons
  • Opportunities for individual personal growth

Here is another perspective of the impact of travel. Bel Canto alumni Kennedy Spencer and Sara Mack share what they gained from the experience: