Mun-Tzung Wong, a renowned pianist and choral member, has been appointed the new music director for the Riverdale Choral Society. She will start in September.
She now adds choir director to repertoire. In her lifelong dedication to her music she has been a pianist, conductor, mezzo-soprano, vocal and instrumental coach.
Wong, who grew up in Hong Kong, said she discovered her passion for music there.
She was 4 the first time she remembers seeing someone play a piano. She was in a shopping mall and was enraptured by the performance, which led to her asking her parents if she too could learn how to play, she shared.
At the behest of her music teacher, at the age of 7, she began accompanying her school’s choir on the piano. From there she began rearranging music and working at the local music store.
“Choral culture was very strong in Hong Kong back then,” Wong said of her introduction to vocal music in secondary school. She joined madrigal and choral groups.
Throughout her vocal teachings, her teacher would, on occasion, allow Wong to take over rehearsals, leading other students through the exercises and practicing as conductor.
“One of my music teachers wanted me to get in touch with my singing voice more, and she offered to bring me to her voice teacher when I was 12,” she said.
Wong came to New York in 2008 after earning her bachelor of arts in piano performance at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. She chose New York as her next destination because the city is the mecca of multicultural music, providing opportunities to work with different artists and people of all backgrounds and generations. She later earned two degrees in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music.
Wong is not a new addition to the Riverdale choir, having been the choir’s pianist since September 2011. When the board invited her to take over as music director after John Letteri stepped down, she felt ready for the challenge.
“After knowing the group for these many years, I believe that I can continue to develop this diverse community of singers with my unique understanding of their strengths and versatility.”
Yaakov Taitz has been a member of the Riverdale choir for 25 years.
Taitz explains that he is in his 70s now and, although he is retired, he does his best to stay active both physically and in his community. Attending practices with the Riverdale Choral Society often end up being the best part of his day leaving him feeling refreshed, regardless of if he had to drag his feet to get there.
He described Wong as an excellent teacher. He feels as though he has seen improvement in his performance just in this last season under her direction.
Anastasia Leopold, another choir member, seconds this praise of Wong. Leopold describes Mun-Tzung’s leadership of the choir as creating an enriching experience.
“She’s not only a conductor but a mezzo-soprano and a concert pianist and she’s just like the creme de la creme, she’s multi-talented,” said Leopold.
Leopold has been a member since January 2018 and explains that the choir is the highlight of her week, which is why she keeps coming back.
Wong states her time thus far as being “exhilarating.”
“It is truly an honor to be leading this choir and taking up the torch to continue to harness the power of our collective voices to bring the music alive,” she said. Wong continues to talk about how being a director allows her to add her flare. She brings new warm-ups and keeps things as fresh and creative as possible.
Leopold describes the warm-ups as a necessity that might seem silly.
“You can’t be embarrassed because some of it is very silly, ” Leopold said of Wong’s warm-ups. She explains that the exercises are meant to prepare their face, body, and diaphragms for the two hours of singing every rehearsal.
For Wong, this is not just about music. She intends for her time as director to help choir members gain strength and confidence in their music and themselves.
As this season closes out, the choir anticipates new members joining before the start of their spring season. At the start of each season, open rehearsals are held for any who wish to join.
“Our members are from all walks of life and generations,” Wong said.
Anyone interested is welcome to attend the rehearsals Wednesday night at Christ Church Riverdale, beginning on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.
The spring season will finish with a concert at Christ Church Riverdale on Sunday, May 5 at 3 p.m.