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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 13, 2010

Jonathan Lasselle lives for music, singing with near perfect pitch

By Anne Hayden

Jonathan Lasselle had trouble hearing for the first few years of his life. He didn’t talk until after he turned 2. Now, at age 10, he sings in a prestigious choir, and has nearly perfect pitch.

Theresa Lasselle, Jonathan’s mother, said her son started having chronic, severe ear infections when he was around five months old. He had three surgeries, had tubes put in his ears, and had his adenoids removed. When he was 2, he finally was able to hear and learned to talk, she said.

“We were told he would having hearing problems for life, but it’s a miracle that he has almost perfect pitch and can sing,” Mrs. Lasselle said. Jonathan, a student at Altamont Elementary School, has sung in church choirs since he was a little boy. And, after his family attended a concert at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, a friend suggested that he meet with the director of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys.

The director, Woodrow Bynum, described Jonathan as a boy who “eats and breathes music.” Each of the 17 boys in the choir were screened, which required vocal and singing exercises. A new member of the choir must go through six months of training before singing with the group.

“Jonathan was an instant hit. He had a significant amount of musical training already, and the other choristers recognized his talent,” Bynum said. He has been the director of the choir, which has been performing since 1872, for the past four years.

Mrs. Lasselle said all of her four children take piano lessons because she believes it increases intelligence. But Jonathan, she said, is particularly drawn to music.

“He makes music out of everything. He sings all day. It’s just a part of him; it’s who he is,” said Mrs. Lasselle, a preschool teacher.

“Singing makes me feel good. I really like a song that gets mean, loud, and exciting,” said Jonathan. He said he hopes to be a conductor or play an instrument professionally when he gets older.

According to Bynum, only one out of 250 boys has close to perfect pitch, although it is more common among trained musicians, like Jonathan. Perfect pitch is the ability to identify any musical note without comparison to a reference note. Bynum said perfect pitch can be both a help and a hindrance, because a person with perfect pitch might have trouble adjusting to changes in the tone of a group of singers; Jonathan has no problem with adjustment, he said.

Being a part of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys is a huge commitment, Bynum said. The boys rehearse twice a week and sing at a service on Sunday. They sight-read music at a collegiate level, and sing in four different languages.

“These young men are working at an adult level, but they are still very much children. They are learning a skill set beyond their age group,” Bynum said.

Lasselle said Bynum sets the stage for professionalism, and makes sure the boys behave politely and appropriately at all times.

“It is a great group for Jonathan to be a part of. It’s an amazing group of individuals with musical talent, but they are all just normal boys. He’s made some genuine friends,” Lasselle said.

The boys are paid nominally for their work and each is required to set aside half of his earnings toward a trip the choir plans to take to sing in Italy, Lasselle said.

The choir has a big concert coming up this weekend. They will be performing Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of All Saints, on Saturday at 7 p.m., and on Sunday at 3 p.m. Bynum send it is one of the “biggest ventures” the choir has ever taken on, because the famous piece is extremely demanding. It is usually performed in portions, but the choir has made no cuts to the piece, and will be singing for over an hour, said Bynum.

The concert will feature an orchestra of some of the best baroque musicians in the country, and four world-renowned soloists, Bynum said.

“It’s a huge task. We started working on this in August, and all of that work is certainly paying off as we’re in our final preparations,” said Bynum.

Jonathan is looking forward to the concert, and said that, although being in the choir is a large time commitment, he’s going to “keep doing it the way I am, just because I can.”

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