Editor’s Note: Breanne, the author of this article is a member of Camerata and took part in the New York City experience.
Featured Image: Wesleyan Camerata performs at Carnegie Hall on March 11 with other choirs from Maryland and Minnesota. Carnegie Hall | Courtesy
New York City, with its bustling streets even in March, hosted 34 Virginia Wesleyan students and alumni. Members of the VWU Choir, Camerata, performed March 11 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The students, combined with three high school choirs, sang “Sunrise Mass” by Ola Gjeilo.
“Sunrise Mass” is a piece in Latin that is split up into four distinct movements: The Spheres, Sunrise, The City and Identity. When combined with a string orchestra, this piece is designed to represent the journey one goes through as their identity evolves. The composer, Ola Gjeilo, expresses this journey in a very cinematic way, which allows audiences to connect with the message of the piece without understanding the actual Latin lyrics.
VWU Chair of Fine and Performing Arts, Associate Professor of Music and Choir Director Dr. Bryson Mortensen directed rehearsals and conducted the piece in Carnegie Hall on March 11. He chose the piece specifically to fit the venue, as well as the VWU choir and high school choirs that would be performing.
Performing at Carnegie Hall was a special experience for everyone involved.
“I think Carnegie Hall has such history and the reason that it’s still thriving as a venue for the arts is that it’s such a beautiful place to sing. It’s so rewarding to be there and experience that sound,” Mortensen said.
This short-term study away experience was unique for many participants, not only because of the opportunity to perform at such a prominent venue but because, for many college choirs, performing at an event that sold over 2,000 tickets is a rare experience. For many of the attending students, this was their first time in New York.
This trip provided the opportunity to experience New York from its center in Manhattan. It also allowed students to experience New York culture via the performing arts. Students involved in this experience learned more about the role music plays in their lives both personally and academically.
The trip’s itinerary included seven hours of rehearsals, a Broadway show, attendance at the Metropolitan Opera, a cruise of the New York Harbor and time for students to explore Manhattan. Just as with any off-campus experience, this trip to New York was costly and required a significant time commitment for many students.
When asked, participants overwhelmingly said that the experience was well worth these costs and that they would be willing to go again if VWU were to perform for a fourth time at Carnegie Hall.
“Being able to perform at Carnegie Hall is not something that all choirs get to do,” freshman choral member Elena Lichtenwalner said. “It’s very rare and special. It was definitely worth the time and effort.”
A good portion of the four-day trip was spent observing other aspects of the performing arts. Everyone had the opportunity to attend both the opera and a Broadway show. New York City is well known in America for many reasons but significantly for being a hub for America’s performing arts. This center of the arts was especially appreciated because everyone participating has a clear connection with the performing arts through choir.
“Choir has been my foundation for the better half of my life,” participating alumni Jacob Barnett said.
Seeing professional Broadway performances such as “Hadestown,” “Book of Mormon” and “Chicago” allowed students to reconnect with the important roles music and performance play in their lives.
“Performing at Carnegie Hall but also seeing professionals on Broadway is a real chance to see what’s possible,” Mortensen said.
Many students in Virginia Wesleyan’s Camerata choir are Theater or Music majors and minors. This experience allowed them to engage with their field of study and have firsthand experiences with professional performances.
Combined choirs like the one that performed in New York present many challenges as it is difficult when bringing so many people together who have different levels of experience. Carnegie Hall, with its rich history of spectacular concerts, raised expectations regarding the quality of the performance.
Rehearsal, while time consuming, was essential to the success of the concert. With extensive practice, the performance of the choir combined with the orchestra resulted in a beautifully symphonic concert.
Carnegie Hall has hosted some of the nation’s most famous performances and remains a beacon for musicians of all kinds. For the VWU Camerata choir, singing in such a renowned venue was truly a life-changing opportunity.
By Breanne Bessette