We believe choral singing builds better humans.
Who We Are
Founded in 1993 and comprised of auditioned treble singers from five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem has developed an international reputation for performing diversified choral repertoire at the highest standard of musical excellence and style.
Noted for the innovative, artistic programs it presents, the choir has been invited to perform for numerous music conferences, including the Eastern Division ACDA, Eastern Division NAfME, PMEA, AGO and Pennsylvania ACDA conferences. Tours have taken the choir to Central Europe, Italy, Ireland, Canada, England, Oregon, Brooklyn, Disneyworld, Ohio, and Hawaii. The choir has been honored for its excellence as a winner of The American Prize in the Children’s Chorus category. Their 2021 concert video, Stand Up: Singing the Underground Railroad, has been widely acclaimed for the expressive artistry, stunning videography, and timely message it presents.
As the youth performance arm of the Bach Choir, Bel Canto provides choral music education for children and youth and pedagogical programming for music educators. These programs include the performing ensembles of Bel Canto, Choral Village, Cantaré (our new partnership with the Bethlehem Area School District), our monthly Vocalise newsletter for music educators, and professional development programs.
Bel Canto performs annually with the Bach Choir. Highlights include the CD recording of A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem, Britten’s St. Nicholas, fully staged performances of Britten’s one act opera, Noyes Fludde, and this year’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The choir frequently collaborates with other artists as well, including the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Allentown Band, Bucks County Choral Society, Cordus Mundi Men’s Chorus, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and Lehigh University Choral Union. The choir has been under the direction of Dr. Joy Hirokawa since its founding.
The process of learning to work together as a team to create inspired, musical performances builds personal empathy and understanding. We consider each individual chorister as a valued, contributing member. Our instructional approach provides social and historical context for every piece we study.
Musicianship and vocal technique are seamlessly integrated into instruction, and drawn directly from the music we are learning. Our repertoire ranges from Bach to contemporary composers and culturally based music, with a special emphasis on underrepresented composers and music.
These wide-ranging musical experiences connect our singers, creating a strong sense of community, understanding the power they have when they lift their voices.
Take a look at how we have shifted to keep singing through the pandemic:
The Directors and Administration
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.
Connie Behringer joins the Bel Canto Youth Chorus with more than 20 years of experience program management and higher education. With a career focused in equity, growth, and team development, Ms. Behringer dedicates her effort toward building an environment of belonging. Ms. Behringer holds a Master of Arts from DePaul University, Chicago, as well as degrees from Columbia College Chicago and Rutgers University. She and her husband Bill are enthusiastic board gamers.
Elizabeth Kane is thrilled to lead the Preparatory Choir of The Bel Canto Youth Chorus. She has earned a Masters of Musical Arts in Ethnomusicology from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a Bachelor of Music degree with honors in Music Education from The College of New Jersey. She is currently completing her Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Education at Boston University with a research focus in social-emotional learning. She currently teaches music at Bridgewater Raritan Regional School district, a NAMM “Best Communities For Music Education” district for several years running. Elizabeth is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Association for Music Education, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the American String Teachers Association. She also served as a national publications committee member for the National Association for Gifted Children. Elizabeth has a deep passion for lifelong and community music-making. She has been both a performer, lecturer, and board of trustees member for the New Jersey Choral Society where she worked hard to ensure high quality and informative intergenerational music performances. Elizabeth believes in helping every child experience and create music in meaningful and fun ways.
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.
2021-2022 Governance Committee
As an 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.
Jennifer O’Donnell, Chair and Representative to the Bach Choir of Bethlehem Board of Directors
Phyllis H. Gibson
Connie Behringer, Administrator of Bel Canto Youth Chorus
Joy Hirokawa, Founder and Artistic Director of Bel Canto Youth Chorus
Leela Breithaupf, Executive Director of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem