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.
The Directors and Administration
Dr. Joy Hirokawa, Founder and Artistic Director, steps down from the Bel Canto Youth Chorus; Kelly Rocchi and Alaina Swartz take over as Artistic Directors
Kelly Rocchi, Artistic Director of Concert Choir
Kelly S. Rocchi has been the Choral Director at Nazareth Area High since 2006. A graduate of Penn State University, she has also earned a Masters in Vocal Performance from West Chester University. She is the director of the high school Concert Choir (non-auditioned “come-all” choir), Nightingales (select treble ensemble), Cantus (select SATB ensemble), and oversees two student directed a cappella groups. She also teaches four levels of piano and two levels of music theory at the high school. Nazareth Area School District was recognized as one of the best in the nation for music education by the NAMM Foundation for the past five years.
Kelly has served as the guest conductor for several choral festivals and was selected as the Penn State School of Music Outstanding Music Education Alumni Award winner for the 2020-2021 school year. Kelly was also named as a Semi-Finalist in the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Program for the 2021 school year. The Nightingales, Nazareth Area High School’s select treble choir, has been invited to sing at several American Choral Directors Association-PA Fall Conferences and Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Conferences as well as at the 2019 National Association for Music Educators/PMEA Eastern Division Conference. Kelly and her husband Michael live in Coopersburg with their 10-year old twins, Allie and Cameron.
Alaina Swartz, Artistic Director of the Youth Chorale
Alaina Swartz is the director of the Bel Canto Youth Chorale. Originally from Reading, PA, Alaina has spent the last 16 years in the Lehigh Valley as a music educator and choral musician. Alaina earned her Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Susquehanna University, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and her Master of Music in Music Education from Ithaca College. She began her career in the Parkland School District at Springhouse Middle School, instructing the choral program and general music classes. Under her tenure, the choir increased fourfold in enrollment. She has most recently taught at Kernsville Elementary School, teaching classroom and choral music. In addition to the classroom, Alaina has taught studio voice and piano lessons. Alaina has performed with the Lehigh Valley Choral Union, Allentown Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and Interrupted Silence Vocal Ensemble. Alaina is passionate about developing an appreciation of the choral arts while fostering healthy vocal development. She is excited to join the Bach Choir family and to share her enthusiasm with the students in the Bel Canto Youth Chorale.
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.
Leah Kun, Choir Manager
Leah Kun is a contralto coloratura vocalist with a Bachelor’s Degree from Westminster Choir College. She is also a member of the Bach Choir, and works as a private voice teacher. She performed as Arnalta in Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” in the summer of 2022 with the Saluzzo Opera Academy in Italy and will be performing the role of Bradamante in Handel’s “Alcina” in Poland this summer. Leah has had many years of choir singing experience. She has sung with the Westminster Symphonic Choir under the direction of Joe Miller, The Westminster Williamson Voices with James Jordan, and the Jubilee Singers with Vinroy Brown. She has performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Handel’s Messiah under the direction of Yannick Nezet-Seguin at the Kimmel and Lincoln Centers. Leah’s wide range of choral singing experience and passion for youth choral singing brought her to The Bel Canto Youth chorus in November of 2022.
2022-2023 Bel Canto 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.
Phillip Turton, Chair and Representative to the Bach Choir of Bethlehem Board of Directors
Phyllis H. Gibson
Leah Kun, Choir Manager of Bel Canto Youth Chorus
Joy Hirokawa, Founder and Artistic Director of Bel Canto Youth Chorus
Leela Breithaupt, Executive Director of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem