By Ann Marie Barron
A recent performance to a sold-out Carnegie Hall crowd was a real windfall for the Chatham High School Select Choir, which took home first place honors, prize money and memories to last a lifetime.
After performing “Somebody to Love,’’ by the 80s band Queen, the choir was selected from the five competing finalists to open a bit later for the British-American hard rock band Foreigner on the Carnegie Hall stage.
The choir took home a $5,000 prize from the Grammy Foundation to support its program, in addition to winning the opportunity to sing the band’s biggest hit single, “I Want To know What Love is,’’ as an opening act for the 70s-80s band.
“As a musician, its humbling to sing at such a prestigious hall, but also super validating,’’ said Mary Kate Willmot, a junior who performed a solo in the contest. “Singing at Carnegie Hall has meant so much to me as a person and as a musician.’’
Ken Bryson, Chatham’s director of choral activities since September, said the students’ reactions were priceless.
“They were in awe of the space,’’ he said. “The vastness of Carnegie Hall was pretty impressive, and to go and perform there? The audience just went bizerk. We had them right in the palm of our hands from the beginning. It was an electric performance.’’
All of the choir’s 20 members participated in the event, which took place Oct. 25 in the historic music hall in Manhattan, and four students performed solos. Also performing solos were juniors Charlie Thomson and Elizabeth Stuart, and Jacob Feeney, a senior.
The choir members are: sophomore Matt Markay, senior Avery Pedell, senior Claire McGovern, senior Rima San Pietro, senior Sharon Cashel, senior Claire McGovern, junior Lilly McGrath, junior Peter Hoefler, senior Kate Evans, senior Kimberly Scaglione, junior Emily Jaime, junior Eitan Miller, senior Aaron Fontes, junior Owen LaChance, senior Donnie McAuliffe, senior Neil McCaffrey and senior Conor Sullivan.
Bryson, a fan of 70s and 80s music, heard of the contest and submitted a recording of the Select Choir’s a cappella performance of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,’’ which he had arranged for the choir. On Oct. 17, Bryson learned his choir had been selected as one of the five finalist choirs.
When he first presented the idea to the students, Bryson was surprised and pleased to find out that the students were fans of the music, too. “I was surprised by how many knew Foreigner and the music of Foreigner, and they especially knew Queen,’’ he said. “They really knew the music.’’
Soloist Thomson said the experience has been, “really, really crazy.’’
“Select Choir was never really recognized outside the high school,’’ Thomson said. “We would do smaller events around town, but never anything remotely close to the scale of performing at Carnegie Hall. And now that, all of a sudden, we have done this really cool thing, it feels awesome to finally be seen as a really valued part of this town.’’
Foreigner’s performance at Carnegie Hall kicked off the band’s 40th Anniversary
Bryson, of Basking Ridge, joined the staff at Chatham this fall after years of running a private vocal studio in Summit.
“I’m new to academia,’’ he admitted. “But, I always knew that I wanted to teach. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.’’
Select Choir members are glad he came on board.
“He really has re-energized Select into something much bigger than it’s been in the past,’’ said Willmot. “He listens and cares for us as people, guides and motivates us as musicians and sets a standard the minute we walk in. That’s why we can do what we do.’’