Fifth-grader Daniel Voigt has a gift for singing, one that he showcased with the Milwaukee Symphony and one that he’ll refine as a member of the country’s most prestigious boys choir
Daniel Voigt was just 3 years old when he began singing with the children’s choir at his Port Washington church.
By age 7, he was performing with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, and in December, at age 10, Daniel was a soloist for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s children’s concert.
Next week, just two days after his 11th birthday, he will enter the American Boychoir School in Princeton, N.J., and perform with the country’s most prestigious boys choir.
“He must have been 2 years old when he sang his first medley,” his proud grandmother Susan Churchill said. “I couldn’t understand all the words, but he was clearly singing, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, for the Bible tells me so, E-I-E-I-O’ in all the right melodies.”
A few tears were shed on Sunday when Daniel, accompanied by his sister Shona and grandmother, sang a farewell song at First Congregational Church in Port Washington.
The opportunity of a lifetime comes with a bittersweet twist. Daniel will have to leave his family, including his mother Jackie and sister Shona of Cedarburg, father Peter of Milwaukee and grandparents Churchill and Owen Madson of Saukville.
“It’s hard, but now I have to stay positive so he can have the opportunity of a lifetime,” his mother, who is from Uganda, said. “Of course, I’m going to miss him. I tell him, ‘If I cry for you, it’s because I’m so happy for you.’”
Anyone who has heard Daniel sing — from classmates to professional musicians — knows he has a gift. His new school will bring out that gift in a rich way. And Daniel will get to do what he loves to do most — sing before audiences and create his own music.
Marco Melendez, artistic director of the Milwaukee Children’s Choir since April 2012, spotted Daniel as a potential American Boychoir School candidate the first time he heard him sing.
He had substituted for Daniel’s teacher in Mequon and immediately noticed his talent.
“It was quite evident right away he was standing out as a leader in the choir and as a shining star within the small ensemble,” Melendez said.
“I told his teacher, ‘Keep your eye out and let’s see what he’s really got.’ He clearly has an ear for music and a passion for it.”
Melendez attended American Boychoir School from 1997 to 1999, is president of the alumni association and auditions boys for the choir, so he’s always looking for potential students.
Melendez auditioned Daniel in December 2012, asking him to vocalize what he played on the piano.
“I started hearing the clear, vibrant, rich notes soaring to the heavens in the high notes,” Melendez said. “I started playing what he thought was a game, but it was really an audition. I wanted to know if he could hear interlocking harmonies and pick out the middle notes. He could do it quite well. I played interesting intervals and asked him to repeat them to test his tonal memory.”
Melendez told Daniel, “Congratulations, you just auditioned for the American Boychoir School.”
Neither Daniel nor his family had heard of the school, and an Internet search initially turned up nothing because Daniel misunderstood the name.
When Melendez directed them to the school’s website, they were impressed.
Melendez knew Daniel had the musical ability, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready for the school.
“He has the ear and desire, but does he have the will to leave his home and venture out on his own?” Melendez said. “The reason he stood out for me was he had the spark in his eyes. When he sings, there is a spark there that’s so profound. It shows his love and passion for creating music through his whole being.
“The boychoir school is not for everybody. It takes somebody who absolutely loves music and wants to make it their life at that point in time.”
More than 1,000 boys audition for the school, Melendez said, and only about 50 are accepted. The school, which is for boys in fourth through eighth grades, is known for its academics as well as musical excellence.
When Melendez told the school’s directors about Daniel, they offered him a scholarship to a one-week summer camp on the campus in June.
His first night there, Daniel said, he felt at home. He liked his roommates, which included a current student and two potential students.
During the camp, Daniel said, they learned songs in the morning and had a music theory class, then spent the remainder of the day playing games. The group went on a short bus tour, performing at several venues and spending a day at the New Jersey shore.
“When my grandparents came to pick me up, I didn’t want to go home,” Daniel said. “I wanted to stay. I met a lot of friends there and started to fit in. You get to work on music that’s more challenging than with MCC.”
In December, the school offered Daniel a scholarship that will pay 80% of his tuition and 30% of his room and board. One year at the school costs about $32,000, including room and board, but not school uniforms.
The school’s repertoire includes soprano and alto parts for boys whose voices change while they’re at the school.
Daniel, a fifth-grader at Parkview Elementary School in Cedarburg, said he debated whether to be a football player or have a music career. He is a member of the school honors choir and plays tennis, soccer and football, excelling in all three sports.
“At first, I was thinking of being a football star and playing in college,” Daniel said. “But when I heard they really wanted me, I thought I should change my career. My music career is taking off now.”
Although he didn’t have to return to his Cedarburg school after the holiday break, Daniel did so because he wants to be with his friends. An A-student, he even does his homework.
Originally expected at the New Jersey school on Jan. 11, Daniel wanted to celebrate his 11th birthday on Jan. 17 with his friends, so his entrance date was delayed to Jan. 19. His mother and grandparents will fly with him to New Jersey.
Sherri Melichar, director of First Congregational’s children’s choirs, said Daniel has been a big part of the choirs, and she’s impressed with his unselfishness and willingness to help others.
“He was ready for the chapel choir his second year (at age 4), but that would have decimated the children’s choir, so he said he would do both,” Melichar said.
“He helps me with the little ones. When he’s there, they’re so happy. They sing louder and are more confident when he sings with them.”
Daniel enjoys singing with choirs, but said he’s happiest singing solos.
“I like the solos because I get to work on the music by myself instead of doing it with more people,” he said. “I can be more creative.”
After his solo with the Milwaukee Symphony, Daniel got the star treatment.
“We got a standing ovation. It was amazing,” Daniel said. “Two people asked me for my autograph, which I thought was pretty funny, about a thousand were shaking my hand, and two people wanted their pictures taken with me.”
Image Information: Daniel Voigt was surrounded by his family and supporters (from left) piano teacher Sherri Melichar, aunt Clare Chewe-Facey, mother Jackie, sister Shona, grandmother Susan Churchill, grandfather Owen Madson and father Peter at First Congregational Church on Sunday. Photo by Sam Arendt