At the age of eleven, Sydney Guillaume's parents moved him and his brothers from Haiti to the United States in hopes of a brighter future. His parents sacrificed a great deal to make this move possible, and that was a sacrifice that Sydney would never forget. Years later, the now Los Angeles based composer is one of the hottest names in choral music. Surprisingly, he never imagined himself being a fixture in the choral world until a transformative experience with a beloved choral conductor changed his life.
At that time, Sydney Guillaume was a piano major at Miami's Coral Reef High School when he was invited to travel to New York City. Students enrolled in the high school choir and piano programs were thrilled about this opportunity, but as a part of the trip, all of them were required to participate in a mass choir performance. He wasn't that excited about singing in the choir, but he was wiling to do so for the opportunity to visit the city. Guillaume said, "I just wanted to take the trip and do touristy things." When Sydney spoke about that choral experience with Dr. Eph Ehly, his enthusiasm peaked. I could hear a huge smile on his face when he recalled singing Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium with Dr. Ehly at Carnegie Hall. He said, "Everyone of us could feel Dr. Ehly's passion and strong love for the music. It was palpable and I had never experienced music that way before."
After that experience, he continued his musical studies at the University of Miami, where he majored in composition and continued singing in choir. During his studies there, Guillaume learned that his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately began composing the choral work Pour Toi, Mère, only his second choral composition, which means "For You, Mother". He was very transparent during our conversation, and said that the he originally wrote the piece for himself as a way to cope with his mother's illness, but the piece eventually developed an unexpected role.
Sydney's mother was extremely moved by the tribute and began using the recording of the premiere during her chemotherapy treatments. Sydney said, "My mother would listen to those recordings nonstop during chemotherapy, and eventually her cancer went into remission for many years." After that statement, I had to take a moment and process this incredible journey. His family's sacrifice to bring their children to the United States, ultimately led to Sydney writing a soul-stirring composition that would lift his mother's spirits during her cancer treatments. What a special way to bring it full circle!
Later in our conversation, Sydney told me that her cancer had returned and that she was still listening to that premiere recording from 2004. Keep listening, Mrs. Guillaume and if you have been affected by cancer in some way, I encourage you to listen to the complete story and performance in this week's episode of Sing to Inspire by clicking the audio player above.
#SingToInspire Performance of the Week
Pour Toi, Mère - Sydney Guillaume
The University of Miami Chorale, performer
Matthew Tresler, conductor
#SingToInspire Picture of the Week
#SingToInspire Video of the Week
World premiere of "Pour Toi, Mère" (For You, Mother)
The world premiere of "Pour Toi, Mère" (For You, Mother) at my Senior Composition Recital 11 years ago. This video brings back so many fond memories!Posted by Sydney Guillaume on Thursday, May 7, 2015