Conductor's passion for music makes children sing out

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  • Photos by Laurie Gordon Attentive and ready to sing.

  • Rapt students of choir.

  • Debbie Mello teaching and conducting.

By Laurie Gordon

— Fredon second grader Gianna Fasolo sums it up nicely: "I love singing in chorus, and Mrs. Mello makes it so much fun."

Debbie Mello, of Newton, has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of students through the Children's Chorus of Sussex County (CCSC), instilling in them a passion and appreciation for music. The chorus is now 25 years old, and will celebrate with a concert on Saturday, June 11 at Christ Church in Newton.

The love of singing that Fasolo and all of the children who currently sing for CCSC feel is because Mello loves what she does. You can see it in her eyes and with the sheer joy and enthusiasm with which she directs the chorus. It all started back in the fall of 1990.

“I was working on my Master's in Choral Conducting and wanted to put together a choir made up of elementary and middle school children who loved to sing,” Mello said, “Invitations were issued to outstanding students who attended McKeown Elementary School (current students of mine), Kittatinny Regional (former students of mine and also students recommended to me by the choral director, my husband, Joe Mello) and children in the Christ Church Junior Choir (another choir that I directed).”

Rehearsals began twice weekly at Christ Episcopal Church.

Following the inaugural performance in January 1991, the choir blossomed. The chorus was invited to perform with Trenton State College Choir and Orchestra in three performances of Carmina Burana. Mello said that the children wanted to be a part of this exciting collaboration, which paved the way for the choir to continue into the fall and become a continuing program. Since that time, the chorus has been host to many national and international children's choirs, has toured both nationally and internationally and has enjoyed collaborations with university and adult community choirs in performances of large works written for children and adult choirs and orchestra. The choir has performed these works in Carnegie Hall and in various New Jersey venues. This year the choir performed Benjamin Britten's Saint Nicolas with the choirs at Drew University and just this past Sunday, performed John Rutter's Mass of the Children with the Water Gap Singers in Blairstown.

“Some of my proudest musical moments have occurred in our concerts when everything comes together beautifully,” Mello said, “Also, when we were invited to sing 5 p.m. Saturday Mass at the Vatican, the entire pontifical music staff was there and could not say enough about about how beautifully the children sang. They even wanted copies of the music we sang, because they loved our selections.”

She also recalled a performance in the Czech Republic.

“When we sang in Litomisal, Czech Republic, the birthplace of composer Bedrich Smetana with four other children's choirs from the USA and the town official told our choir 'Sussex County, the best!' After sending sound files to several people and places where we would be in Belgium, The Netherlands and France and were we then invited by the American ambassador to join him and the European Union ambassador at the American Embassy in Brussels to be his guests and to perform at the July 4th festivities. Also, when we sang a piece entitled,'In Flanders Fields' to our Belgian guide, who had served in WWII and his father in WWI, he wept openly for the children's gift to of the song to him.”

Laura Pachnos said she was singing in the children's choir at Christ Episcopal Church when Mello asked her to audition for the CCSC when she was in sixth grade. “I was involved in 6th grade, but I had to stop because it conflicted with my dance competition schedule, and I could not keep up with the rigorous program at the time. However, I rejoined in my junior year of high school because I wanted a more professional choir experience. Being a member of CCSC really taught me how to be a strong ensemble member and appreciate the people around me because it was such a loving environment. It also showed me different sides of my voice because we sang so many different styles of music.”

Pachnos is currently a vocal performance major at James Madison University in Virginia and says she is “lucky to be singing every day.” She said, “My favorite memory of CCSC was traveling to Canada to compete in the International Kathaumixw Festival and experiencing so many other choirs and talented people. Watching all those groups perform and getting the chance to perform along side them solidified why I wanted to major in the arts in college." She added, "Mrs. Mello has had an incredible impact on my life and I owe most of my musical successes to her. She is an amazing teacher, mentor, and friend, and I am so thankful to have had the chance to work with her for so long."

Mello said her proudest non-musical moments are those that she witnesses in rehearsal, in concert and on tour of her singers being kind, compassionate and caring to one another and to people they meet.

Several of the singers who have come out of the CCSC have become music educators at all levels from pre-school to university: Kay Leavy, Adrienne Wills, Stepheni Baumann, Scott Mello, Julianne Chandler, Katie Pasculli, Stephanie Leotsakos (Princeton - music education, voice and composition) to name a few. Many have continued to pursue professional careers: Gina Mobilio, Ben Schaub, Jennifer Mello, Michael Breslin, Scott Mello, Julianne Froehlich, Allison Mello and many have attended higher education as music/voice majors and continue to sing as an avocation. Others have gone into high profile careers such as veterinary medicine, law, medicine, science and research.

Mello said, “I would like to think that singing enhanced their life path.”

The chorus includes: Musikgarten - a beginning music experience (age 4-5 & 5-6), Bella Voce - grade 2 through grade 6, Young Men's Ensemble - for changed voices (tenors & basses) grade 7-12, and Concert Choir - for unchanged treble voices (sopranos & altos) grades 7-12. For information about CCSC and information about setting up an audition, visit The organization also offers summer camps for which there is no audition required. Information is also on the website.

The concert on June 11, will be a celebration of the years of joy CCSC has brought to its participants. Alumni should contact Mello through the CCSC website, the alumni Facebook page or directly dmello435@gmail to RSVP as Mello has songs set up for them to sing. The Bella Voce and Concert Choir will perform alone and together and the Water Gap Singers will also join them for a few pieces, and a reception will follow the concert to meet and greet everyone.


Children's Chorus of Sussex County 25th Anniversary Concert

Saturday, June 11 @ 7 pm with alumni events prior at 6 pm

Christ Episcopal Church, 62 Main Street, Newton

Tickets at the door $12; Purchase prior to concert at EventBrite for $8

For information about the concert or choir, visit:

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