By KEVIN MERRILL
For the second time in four years, the Choraliers are performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The 38-member group departs March 5 on a four-day trip, capped by a March 8 choir performance at the Big Apple landmark.
The group performs at 8:30 p.m. on the Perelman Stage in the Stern Auditorium. They will be part of a mass choir of college and high school singers. They will sing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)” and be supported by an orchestra. The piece is about 45 minutes; the Choraliers come on stage during the second half.
When they return to Ottawa Hills, they will perform a section of that work at the March 15 Spring Choir Concert (2-3 p.m. at the Junior/Senior High School auditorium).
“You do so much work on pieces like this and then you only get to sing it once,” said Donna Wipfli, the vocal music director at the Junior/Senior High School. “I wanted to give our students a chance to perform it a second time for a local audience so families and the community can see what it is we've been working on, raising money for, and talking about.”
In addition to many rehearsals (nearly 11 hours over three days) in New York leading to the Carnegie Hall performance, the group sings March 6 at an Ottawa Hills alumni event and March 7 at the Actor’s Chapel at St. Malachy’s. The song list for the alumni event is still being determined. “I don’t know yet, but it’s probably going to have to include ‘Sleigh Ride’ because the Choraliers have been singing that for about 40 years,” Mrs. Wipfli said.
The trip is the latest achievement for the Choraliers, an award-winning group with a decades-rich tradition. Its members – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass singers in grades 9-12 – were not planning to travel in 2019-2020, and likely not next academic year either. This coming fall is Agora, the biennial exploration of learning outside the classroom, which typically involves foreign travel for many juniors and seniors.
“The thinking was we would not travel this year. Michael (Leeds) was taking the band to Toronto and I thought, well then, we’ll just not go,” Mrs. Wipfli said. “And then this invitation came in and I just couldn’t pass it up. And it’s an amazing piece we’re singing.”
The invitation came from Dr. Lynda Hasseler, a professor at Columbus, Ohio-based Capital University and head of its choir program. She is leading the mass choir at the March 8 performance.
In 2015, Dr. Hasseler visited the area at Mrs. Wipfli’s request and conducted a workshop for OH students and other choir singers from St. John’s Jesuit and Notre Dame Academy. When the Capital University choir was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in March 2016, Dr. Hasseler chose music that required more voices. She turned to her friend Mrs. Wipfli, and asked if Ottawa Hills’ students would like to participate.
“I knew it would be extraordinary because she is a remarkable person, conductor, and musician so I didn’t want to turn that down,” Mrs. Wipfli recalled. “I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing in a venue with such history. But then I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. Can we really do this? Is this really possible financially, and can kids the kids learn the music?’”
The answers were yes, yes, and yes. Fast forward four years, and under similar circumstances, the Choraliers are returning – again via an invitation from Dr. Hasseler, who will be conducting the choir.
As exciting as the trip is for OH students, it requires them to learn another piece of music. “Give Us Peace” was not part of their annual repertoire, the pieces Mrs. Wipfli chooses each summer to be learned and performed at the season’s four major concerts. So students are attending extra practice sessions to learn the new music.
The New York trip will be the fifth Mrs. Wipfli has led in her seven years at the Junior/Senior High School. The group has visited Chicago twice and New York 3 times.
Students and their families are covering slightly less than half the cost; offsetting those expenses are donations from the Ottawa Hills Schools Parent Association, the Ottawa Hills Music & Theatre Association, the Ottawa Hills Schools Foundation, and The Kadens Family Foundation. The students raised money by performing holiday gigs in December; organizing a fundraiser at DOMO Sushi restaurant; creating a GoFundMe website; conducting a letter-writing campaign and performing their annual day of Singing Valentines. “It has been a village effort,” she said. “I am extremely proud of these students. We have raised more on our own than the three school-support groups combined.”
In addition to Mrs. Wipfli and her husband Steve, the chaperones are Village residents Sherry Brancatto (mother to senior Choralier Ben), Allison Johnson, and Jenny Seifried. Here is a quick look at their schedule:
Thursday, March 5
- Fly from Detroit to New York
- Visit National September 11 Memorial and Museum
- Visit Battery Park
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry
- See a performance of the musical “Come From Away”
Friday, March 6
- Participate in a 90-minute musical theater song and movement workshop with an actor from “Come From Away”
- Attend, perform at alumni event
- Visit Times Square
Saturday, March 7
- Perform at the Actor’s Chapel at St. Malachy’s
- Visit Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Plaza
Sunday, March 8
- Visit Rockefeller Center
- Tour St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Perform at Carnegie Hall
- Post-concert reception
Monday, March 9
- Radio City Music Hall Backstage Tour
- Visit Grand Central Station
- Return flight to Detroit