John Alston: Chester Children’s Chorus & CUSA

About 18 years ago, John Alston walked into the Columbus Elementary School, and with seven boys and began the Chester Children’s Chorus. Alston’s own transformative experience with the Newark Boys Chorus motivated him to start the choir in Chester. Those first few years were rocky, and it was seven or eight years before the program became solid.

For the first several years, it was predominately a summer program, which is still in existence, in which the children are exposed to music, arts, dance, reading, science, and math.

The Chester Children’s Chorus, or CCC costs about $500,000 per year. A typical concert consists of one-third classical music, a one-third cover set, and the rest is a genre that the kids identify as “gospel.” Alston calls it music the children can identify with.

John Alston writes songs for the CCC to sing – he borrows hip-hop beats and writes songs about what he hopes the world will be. Through the CCC, Alston wants to teach the kids excellence and their responsibility to “making their little worlds a better place.” He auditions all second graders for the Chester Children’s Chorus. They personally pick up every child for rehearsals, and practice for many hours each week.

After about five years of the summer program, Alston wanted to make a school, and the Chester Upland School of the Arts, or CUSA was born. His goal includes creating more schools like CUSA in Chester; so that opportunities can help the children catch up with kids with greater advantages in places such as Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. With a combination of rigor and compassion, Alston gives these kids the education that they deserve.