Author: Sussman, Eliahu
Date published: January 1, 2012
The phrase "life-changing phone call" rarely brings positive imagery to mind. However, if that phone call comes from the MacArthur Foundation, it could be that quite pleasant news is in store. Every year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation surprises a handful of creative, inspirational, innovative individuals with a phone call informing them that they have been named MacArthur Fellows. A MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a "genius grant," includes a no-strings-attached gift of $500,000, paid out in installments over a five-year period. And the recipients rarely have any idea they've been selected until they receive a seemingly out-of-theblue phone call.
Among the 22 MacArthur Fellows in 2011 were architects, economists, scientists, professors, a former U.S. poet laureate, and a choral director, Francisco Nunez.
Nunez is the founder of the Young People's Chorus (YPC) of New York City, a program designed to bring children from all ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds together to make and learn about music. A centrai goal of the YPC was to use this ensemble as a model of artistic excellence and humanity that enriches the community. Since its founding in 1988, the YPC has grown to include over 1,200 children each year, ages seven to 18, and the caliber of music they've achieved is astounding. The YPC is a regular at Lincoln Center's Alice TuLIy Hall and Carnegie Hall, and has appeared numerous times on shows like Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the award-winning PBS series, From the Top at Carnegie Hall, in addition to countless national and international tours. As if that weren't enough, the Young People's Chorus has rejuvenated the literature for children's choirs through an ambitious series of commissions from some of the top composers in choral music today.
Upon receiving that fateful phone call, "I was dumbfounded, I actually cried," said Nunez, according to a September 2011 story in the Wall Street Journal. "I get this call from a gentleman. He tells me to tell whoever Tm with to leave and go into a private room. Next thing I know I have to sit down at my desk. I started shaking." The article continues, "I feel like I have an opportunity here and a challenge to figure out something really great"
In this issue's cover story, Nunez declares: "I always knew our music would be great That was never truly my first mission, though. My first mission was to bring these kids together and use music as a means of allowing children to understand themselves better and become stronger."
Aside from the laudable and inspiring work that has already happened in the YPC, a genius grant isn't exactly a reward for one's already-noted accomplishments. In the aforementioned Wall Street journal article, MacArthur Foundation president Robert Gallucci elaborates on this idea, stating, "We hope we're giving these people an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have to pursue their area or interest and let that spirit that has driven them to be free to accomplish more in the future. We're aiming here at the future."
And with people like Francisco Núñez leading the way, the future of children's choral music is bright indeed.
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