This month our Local Love feature is on the new SOMa Youth Choir — “Choral excellence in, by and for the South Orange, Maplewood and surrounding communities.”

There is something exciting and new in town for our kids: the SOMa Youth Choir. This choir is the brainchild of Viraj Lal and Erin Smith, who are friends, music educators and local residents.

Viraj and Erin are truly passionate about the SOMa Youth Choir. Their mission for the choir is “to foster a love for music and provide all choristers an opportunity to develop their singing potential, build community, and gain confidence and stage presence through group performance.”

Combined, Viraj and Erin have more than 25 years of experience in K-12 choral music education. Viraj is the choral director at Newark Academy where he directs nine choral ensembles, and Erin is the National Choir Coordinator for American Young Voices. Erin was also a music teacher in the Millburn Township Public School system for many years. You should read their extremely impressive bios on the SOMa Youth Choir website!

With their choir, Viraj and Erin plan to work in partnership with the schools, not replacing or substituting for the programs in the schools, but building on the great music programs that are already in place.

Anyone age 8-18 from South Orange, Maplewood and the surrounding communities is welcome to join, and you don’t have to have perfect pitch. The choir is all inclusive, not competitive and there will not be any auditions. Erin says the choir is all about “the love of singing and making music.” The environment will be a safe place where kids can explore and express themselves.

For Erin and Viraj, everything boils down to community. They plan to collaborate with the local schools, artists and adult musicians to foster a sense of community among the choir. The choir will be at many local events and will perform music that is themed with each event.

The SOMa Youth Choir, which rehearses on Mondays and Tuesdays at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Maplewood, is divided into several groups by age:

  • Pierson Preparatory Choir – ages 8-10
  • Village Singers – ages 10-12
  • South Mountain and Reservation Choirs – ages 12-16
  • Ricalton Chorale – ages 15-18


For more information on the different choral groups and meeting times, go to the SOMa Youth Choir website.

Tuition is charged but is affordable, and financial aid may be available. Tuition will cover the purchase of music for the choir, transportation to events, formal uniforms, and to advancing the SOMa Youth Choir. Registration is easy on their website.

Erin and Viraj believe they have a lot to prove, but they are confident that the SOMa Youth Choir will be successful and fun. They know their members will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become dedicated members of the choral programs in their school and community.



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