ASU’s Choir, Conductor Make Their Carnegie Hall Debuts
For decades, Carnegie Hall has housed many amazing artists from Tchaikovsky to Dvorak and George Gershwin to Billy Holiday and the Beatles. World-renowned composers and musicians have performed at this highly esteemed concert hall. On May 13, Alabama State University’s concert choir took the stage in New York for this exclusive experience.
The venerable institution, one of the world’s most historic musical locations, invited the ASU choir, under the direction of Dr. Kristofer Sanchack, director of Choral Activities, to perform on its stage as part of its guest conducting engagement series.
The 44-plus-member choir ensemble performed with several other distinguished soloists and choruses from across the country, including Virginia, New Jersey and Colorado.
“Singing at Carnegie Hall is most definitely a huge honor because it is one of the most prestigious and respected musical venues,” said Maalik Camp, a bass-baritone. “I was excited to perform there.”
Not only is the chance to perform at one of the most influential music halls in the world an amazing feat, but Camp added that he was just happy to be able to travel and do something he loves.
“I’ve always wanted to go to New York, and Carnegie Hall is just such a beautiful venue with such a rich history,” Camp said. “I never thought I would have this type of opportunity so young in my life and so early in my career.”
Similar to Camp, soprano Alexis Anderson said performing at Carnegie Hall is special but said there is another important reason.
“Honestly, it’ll just be a cool thing to talk about when I’m older, too,” said Anderson. “It was a wonderful experience. I have never been to Carnegie Hall.”
Anderson almost didn’t make the Carnegie Hall journey because of serious medical issues.
“Two weeks before the trip, I had an operation that allowed me to heal enough to go to Carnegie Hall,” said Camp. “I told my mom I was going to sing in New York.”
And she did.
Preparing for one of the biggest performances the choir has had yet, Sanchack said he realized how amazing this opportunity was for himself and the choir.
“As a kid growing up you pretend you are practicing for Carnegie Hall. You never know if it’s going to happen or not and then it does. In the music world, the most prestigious stage that you could perform on, almost worldwide, is Carnegie Hall… To have that opportunity to perform for an audience is an amazing opportunity,” said Sanchack.
The choir rehearsed for three days with the last rehearsal on the stage at Carnegie Hall before the performance.
From the renowned Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, the choir showcased their talent by performing three songs: Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” John Rutter’s “Gloria” and Adolphus Hailstork's “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes,” which Sanchack conducted.
“There were 2,300 people in attendance. We had the highest audience of anyone this year from the series that we did,” Sanchack pointed out.
Journey Leading to the Big Day
When the choir arrived in New York on May 9, they had one thing on their minds, perfecting their performance by practicing, practicing, and practicing.
“We have been pouring our souls into this work for months — I think it brought us all a lot closer, including with the other schools in the mass choir… I knew that the ASU choir, as well as all of the other incredibly talented musicians in that room, were meant to be there,” said Anderson.
In addition to many hours of rehearsing, the group carved out some downtime.
The choir took in a Broadway show, “The Lion King,” and met the cast, including ASU alumna Bonita Hamilton Caesar, who plays “Shenzi.” Alumnus Brandon McCall, who plays “Simba,” was in Montgomery visiting his alma mater – ASU.
They walked the streets of Harlem where the Harlem Renaissance began and visited the Metropolitan Opera House, the Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, the Harriet Tubman Memorial, and other New York historic venues.
The choir swarmed Times Square with a FlashMob performance, and did a live performance outside of Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre. Both performances drew a crowd.
Their musical journey culminated with the long-awaited performance at the storied music venue.
“My students were very, very well-prepared. I’m very happy and extremely proud of my students because not just any university choir gets selected to perform at Carnegie Hall. This was a big deal. It was one of those experiences that you stick in your back pocket and remember that, ‘hey we were here; we did this, so don’t forget,” added Sanchack.
Sanchack said he would be remiss if he didn’t thank all those who were involved in helping the group to get to Carnegie Hall.
“I want to thank the community, the ASU Foundation, President (Quinton T.) Ross, and the Administration for all their support. This was a life-changing event, not only for me but for our students. I also want to thank all the chaperones who helped me to be able to keep my focus where it needed to be. Everybody came together….realizing we had a task to do and as we always do as Hornets, doing it brilliantly,” Sanchack said.
What’s next? Maybe a second trip to the historic theater to perform. “I got invited back,” said Sanchack.