Abandoning good ol' Michiana, the Saint Mary's Women's Choir takes on the glitz and glamour of New York City, while performing at prestigious Carnegie Hall
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Saint Mary's Editor
Even before the music begins, pre-rehearsal chatter fills the room in an excited harmony of anticipation, nervousness, preparation and expectation. As each one of the 43 members of the Saint Mary's Women's Choir enters the small basement practice room in Moreau Center for the Arts, the chatter escalates until a buzz of excited sopranos and altos chatter nearly uncontrollably.
The conversation, however, does not circle around harmonies and melodies, new music or even what is to come in the evening's rehearsal. Instead of opening music, women around the room open brochures and keep their folders closed, diligently studying Fodor's travel guide to New York.
Anxiously awaiting to board the plane that will take the choir to Carnegie Hall in New York, New York, tonight's rehearsal is not average.
Yet as the piano strikes its first chord, the chatter quickly translates to notes, each voice contributing to a harmony that is the culmination of a semester's worth of practice.
Culminating a year of anticipation, the Saint Mary's Women's Choir will appear in Carnegie Hall this Sunday at 2 p.m. with the Penn High School Women's Choir and 40 alumnae from Saint Mary's College, under the direction of Women's Choir director Nancy Menk. Invited to the great stage by MidAmerica Productions last fall, the Women's Choir will join Davidson College from North Carolina, directed by former Saint Mary's director Ray Sprague, and a group from Oregon under the direction of Solveig Holmquist in a three-part concert.
And the saying that the only road to Carnegie Hall is "practice, practice, practice" certainly holds true for the group, who has spent the last three weeks ironing out imperfections, fine-tuning each piece and making sure their New York debut is error-free.
"We're trying to achieve a level of perfection more so now than ever," said senior soprano Katie Trnka. "We always try to do that, but with this performance, it's more important than ever."
Perfection means more than just hitting the notes, Trnka explained.
"[Menk] has been stressing dynamics and making sure that certain sections sing without bravado," she said. "She's been knit-picky about the way the music sounds because she knows we can achieve that level of perfection. The audience is going to be able to see all the hard work we've been doing."
Yet preparing the groups for the performance has been nothing out of the ordinary, Menk emphasized.
"I don't think [preparation] has been any different," Menk said. "There has been an extra level of excitement and more talking about what the women will hear in the orchestra."
The women will perform several different pieces during the concert, all of which were arranged for women's choirs and women's voices. The choir will perform Johannes Brahms Ave Maria and sing three different settings of the Magnificat, one composed by Michael Haydn, the second by Ralph Vaughn Williams and a third composed by Libby Larsen.
Composed for Saint Mary's sesquicentennial anniversary in 1994, the third arrangement will hold special meaning for the alumnae and current women's choir, since Larsen will be present for the performance.
"So often, when you commission a piece, that's the end of it," Menk said. "This has been published by Oxford University Press, and now we've been able to really give it some national exposure. It's a special thing that the composer is going to be able to be there to see that."
While the choir has performed all of the pieces they will sing at Carnegie Hall at last week's fall concert, the addition of the Penn High School women's choir, alumnae voices, and a full orchestra will add dynamic to the performance not seen before by many of the vocalists.
The three groups, who have never performed or rehearsed together before this weekend, will have eight hours of combined rehearsal time before Sunday's performance, only one of which that will be with the orchestra.
"I'll feel better about the performance after I've heard the orchestra," Menk said. "I rehearsed with the Penn High School women last week, and the alumnae have been learning the music on their own."
The addition of the 40 alumnae will add a sound that is both further developed and provides depth to the choir, she said.
"The alumnae voices are more mature," said Menk. "It will be nice to add that to both the current women's choir and the Penn choir. [The alumnae] can add lower notes and some depth to the music."
But after a semester of rehearsal and anticipation, the group will have little to worry about mastering except stifling their nerves, vocalists said.
"Other things are good, but this has to be really good," said freshman alto Meghann Robinson. "I know I'm going to be nervous."
For Trnka, the sheer excitement of seeing Carnegie Hall as a performer — not as a member of the audience — will be her motivation.
"I've been to Carnegie Hall before, but never to sing," she said. "It's an amazing experience. I've never pictured myself on stage there before ... getting that rush of performing there ... it's going to be something special."
But for a group of which several have never entered the Big Apple, the excitement of seeing the metropolis will be excitement enough away from the stage.
Planning to visit NBC's Today show and get camera time with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, explore the tourist attractions of the city, and perform for East Coast alumnae Friday evening at a reception, the trip will provide "enough free time" for a vacation as well, according to Menk.
But even with the excitement in the Big Apple, the group hasn't lost focus of why it's going.
"All the great musicians have performed there," said alto Kathy Steinlage. "People tell me how awesome it is … I know that I'm going to be nervous."
And with ticket sales going for $68 apiece, who wouldn't be?
All Scene Stories for Friday, November 19, 1999