In the fall of 2016 when I asked the members of my Community Chorus, “Would you like to sing in Carnegie Hall?” one smart-aleck answered, “No. Because I don’t want to practice that much.” The comment came from an old joke that many of you readers will know. A tourist walking on a Manhattan Street asked a local resident, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The guy answered, “Practice! Practice! Practice!”
My question was genuine because we had been invited to join an international assembly of 500 singers and a large orchestra in an annual Carnegie Hall Thanksgiving weekend performance of Handel’s Messiah. Out of the thousands of singing groups around the world, it really was an honor to be invited. We had made the select list because our chorus performs Messiah at El Campanil every other year, and I had submitted an audition recording of our 2016 concert.
We really do “Practice! Practice! Practice!” for these events. We begin weekly sessions in August and rehearse for two hours straight; socializing only takes place when the rehearsal time is finished. Four months of sustained effort is sufficient to form our collection of volunteer singers into a choral group worthy of being invited to perform in Carnegie Hall.
“The three hours we spent in that magnificent performance hall really did make the hours and months of effort more than worthwhile.”
So last November, 53 of us Brentwood Community Chorus members, with 27 of our fans, made the trip to New York City. We were all local residents except for a visiting member from Las Vegas. He was the grandchild of one of the members who came to live with his grandparents so he could join the chorus and make the trip with us.
The hours of practice turned out to be only a small part of the sustained effort required to enable us to join in that amazing event. The audience watching and listening to us couldn’t have imagined how much time, money, and energy was required to make that happen.
Fortunately, I knew from the beginning what we were up against. During more than three decades as the Liberty High School choral director and as a long-time member of a number of musical groups, I had made trips to various locations including a 2007 production at Carnegie Hall. Each trip required a truly prodigious amount of planning, organizing, and implementing for each person.
In our case, the effort was multiplied by 80. If I hadn’t “been around that barn” so many times, I might have felt dismayed at the size of the challenge.
Part of my confidence came from the quality of the people who were helping administer the chorus with me. We have been singing together for six years and volunteers from the choir have always leaped in to provide whatever assistance I needed in managing schedules, venues, and personnel. The challenge of conducting the actual business of the chorus became much greater because we recently launched ourselves as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
There probably wouldn’t be a choir without the help of Annette Beckstrand, who manages our emails and takes care of many details that, otherwise, would drive me crazy. Annette has actually been my main go-to person beginning when her kids were singing in my Liberty High choral groups. Now her children are married and having babies and Annette is still my right-hand person.
Two chorus members, Larry Schaffer and Marilyn Miguel, did a phenomenal job of putting the pieces together. We never could have pulled off the trip without their assistance. Larry, our treasurer, handled finances. Marilyn coordinated travel and accommodations. All of us in the choir are grateful for their efforts.
The Carnegie trip was a week to remember! Following the conclusion of the final chorus, while the audience was engaged in sustained applause, the grandchild I spoke of turned to his grandfather and summarized the experience for most of us, I think, by saying, “That was perfect!” The three hours we spent in that magnificent performance hall really did make the hours and months of effort more than worthwhile.
The people who produce the performances invited us to return for their 2020 production, which would be a special event with all the stops pulled out because it would be the tenth anniversary of their Carnegie Hall Messiah performances. (I’m going to let the chorus decide.)
We are preparing for our annual spring concert. If you want to be a part of this, check out our website. Also, check the website if you would like to donate to our tax-free foundation. Join our Facebook page for ongoing announcements and information.
Rather than just speaking for myself, I invited chorus members who went on the trip to give me some feedback. Here are some of the responses:
It was a dream come true to put “Sing at Carnegie” back on my bucket list. I had replaced it many years ago with building a family (while married to the most wonderful man on the planet). I got them both after all!!
While standing on that magnificent stage, I looked down at my feet and thought of all the amazing performers who had stood in the same spot over the years. It was an honor to be in the company of such musical icons as Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Gershwin, and The Beatles.
Performing at Carnegie Hall was a miracle!! I had recently resigned from a choir that, among other things, would not allow members to color their hair. I consider the trip to Carnegie Hall with the Brentwood Chorus to be a miracle from God and a sign of His faithfulness.
Singing at Carnegie Hall was a transformative experience. It came with enough pride and sense of accomplishment to last a lifetime. It is now on my résumé and will someday appear in my obituary!