At age 6, Vince Wilson never could have imagined when he stepped forward during an audition and hit a note in perfect pitch that it would change his life.
The 22-year-old college junior credits the Chester Children's Chorus for introducing him to different styles of music, challenging him to pursue a university degree, and giving him the courage to try asparagus for the first time. Sushi, too.
Now, as the group's current crop of young vocalists gears up for a series of spring concerts, Wilson was helping out the other day - by throwing a football around with some of the guys after practice at the Chester Friends Meeting House.
Wilson, who attends Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is not the only one giving time.
Chorus member Jenniffer Foster, 16, stopped by to hang out and sing a little, even though her group was not scheduled to practice that day.
The Chester High School sophomore - who once ran from the room during a church choir tryout - now studies music theory and hopes to get a doctoral degree.
"I guess this is something I love now," said Foster.
And, she added, she hopes to become "a professor like John," referring to John Alston, associate professor of music at Swarthmore College and the chorus' director.
Alston started a boys' chorus in Chester 16 years ago with seven members. A few years into it, two older sisters hanging around during their brothers' practices joined in the singing.
"It just dawned on me - big duh here - girls like to sing, too," said Alston.
Now, he said, the girls outnumber the boys.
It's something he hopes to balance with more recruits. The chorus auditions every second grader in Chester public, charter, or private schools. Participants range in age from 8 to 18, and two-thirds stay for five years or more.
Eventually, Alston would like to see the chorus - now numbering almost 100 members - grow to 200.
His big dream? About 500 Chester youths offered outside classes in music, Shakespeare, literature, math, chess, dance, and so on - and his own building.
"I want these kids to have a taste of what some people consider the good life," Alston said. He said he wanted them to experience "some of the perks that come with having resources."
Chester is more than casinos, jails, and a soccer stadium, he said. "Our musical accomplishment is something beautiful."
At 8 p.m. Friday at Chester High School, the chorus will show off its accomplishments.
The program will feature English madrigals and a selection of R&B tunes from the Temptations and Supremes. The chorus will repeat the performance at 8 p.m. Saturday at Swarthmore College's Lang Concert Hall and at 4 p.m. May 16 at St. Peter's Church in Malvern.
Tossing a football around after rehearsal, 12-year-old Jamal Rasheed reflected on what had kept him coming back. He's made good friends and had fun. He gets to sing gospel music. And he likes to perform.
"I don't want to let this go," he said. "I want to know more about music."
For more information about the concerts, call 610-328-8180.