Highlands Youth Ensemble sings at Carnegie Hall04.02.2006
NEW YORK, NY — The Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy's high school level choral group, the Highlands Youth Ensemble, with singers from all over the Tri-Cities area, auditioned for and was selected to perform on March 26, 2006 with Field Studies International in New York City in one of the most prestigious concert venues in the world — — Carnegie Hall.
Members of HYE who participated in the festival and sang in concert at Carnegie Hall on March 26 are:
From Bristol, Tenn., Nikki Fritts and Steven Mott.
From Bristol, Va., Rachel Grunstra.
From Abingdon, Va., Martha Eason.
From Kingsport, Sam Nolen.
From Jonesborough, Lauren Arp and Will McConnell.
From Johnson City, Sarah Compton, Ryan DowlingSoka and Benjamin Loy.
From Hampton, Tenn., Samuel Rosolina.
By audition and invitation only, these Festivals, now in their 16th year, bring together outstanding singers from all over the country to join in a massed choir to work with the world's finest choral conductors. Under the baton of Dr. Andre Thomas, the HYE vocalists worked on music of the highest caliber during three days of advanced musicianship through motivational and fast-paced rehearsals. Students were expected to have each piece of music completely memorized before rehearsals began. The Festival culminated with the unforgettable experience of performing in New York City's world-renowned Carnegie Hall.
According to HYE director Beth McCoy, "The best part of taking the Highlands Youth Ensemble to sing at the Carnegie through the National Youth Choir Festival was knowing that they were worthy of being selected for this honor — and having several of our students chosen by Dr. Thomas as examples of good singing technique. Of course, being able to say you sang on the stage of Carnegie Hall at age 13 is great on the resume, too!"
She continued, "We received the invitation to apply for the FSC event as a direct result of the quality of our students who are accepted for the OAKE national honor choirs each year." To apply, McCoy sent FSC coordinators the live recording from the HYE spring concert. She received a call the very day it arrived because they were immediately accepted.
McCoy's next task was to order the music selected by Dr. Thomas for the festival and begin teaching it to the singers. In February they held a Winterfest, with Stephen Sieck of Emory and Henry College and Dr. Pat Flannagan of King College as workshop clinicians.
"Of course, someone had to begin organizing the numerous non-musical details of the trip," McCoy added. "Thankfully, a parent in the choir, Ruth Grunstra, spearheaded this." Every week while her children took piano lessons at McCoy's house, Grunstra called about lodging, flights, ground transportation, Broadway musicals, safety issues, etc.
Fundraising is usually the next big hurdle. But since it's not every day that a group of teens is accepted to sing in Carnegie Hall, the HYE was wonderfully blessed to have an anonymous donor offer $10,000 to help pay their way. The total cost per person, including chaperones, was over $1,000, but the experience was well worth the money. In the final count 11 singers from the 18-member HYE were able to attend, and six chaperones plus several parents joined the group.
Along with 400 other singers from across the nation, the HYE singers enhanced their knowledge of vocal production and musical style through the direction of Dr. Thomas, whom they consider a favorite choral director now. The HYE also learned about the fun challenges of navigating the Big Apple as a group. They enjoyed the Broadway musical Wicked,, viewed the Empire State Building from "The Top of the Rock," boarded the State Island Ferry for Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and wept at Ground Zero, site of the WTC disaster. They ate salty pretzels and strawberry cheesecake and shopped in Times Square till one o'clock in the morning.
The HYE singers were so well-prepared for the festival that they are already seeking a bigger challenge for next time. "Our singers were fully memorized before they boarded their first flight and displayed exemplary behavior both in rehearsals and during free time. Already they have received an invitation to sing with Dr. Randall Stroope at Wells Cathedral in 2007. They've proven that they are also ready to tour a few days on their own and perhaps concertize in England. I'd love for them to see Stonehenge and the Cotwalds," said McCoy, who also directs the East Tennessee Children's Choir, which sang in Puccini's "La Boheme" in February.
The singers from the Highlands Youth Ensemble who debuted in Carnegie Hall on March 26, 2006 included:
Lauren Arp, alto I from Jonesborough, TN
Sarah Compton, soprano II from Johnson City, TN
Ryan DowlingSoka, tenor I from Johnson City, TN
Martha Eason, soprano II from Abingdon, VA
Nikki Fritts, soprano I from Bristol, TN
Rachel Grunstra, soprano II from Bristol, VA
Benjamin Loy, bass I from Johnson City, TN
Will McConnell, tenor I from Jonesborough, TN
Steven Mott, bass I from Bristol, TN
Sam Nolen, bass I from Kingsport, TN
Samuel Rosolina, tenor II from Hampton, TN