Lehigh University Choral Arts perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Nov. 21. Conductor-composer Steven Sametz led the Lehigh Choral Union, University Choir, Dolce and Glee Club in the performance. (Courtesy of Matthew Lee)

‘Practice, practice, practice’ pays off for Choral Arts at Carnegie Hall

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Lehigh’s football team wasn’t the only group of students to perform on a bigger stage than usual as part of the Rivalry 150 weekend in New York City. Lehigh’s Choral Arts group performed at the renowned Carnegie Hall Friday night under the direction of Dr. Steven Sametz.

The group sang two pieces composed by Sametz: “Carmina amoris” and “I Have Had Singing.”

Choral Arts member Ohmny Romero, ’15, said “Carmina amoris” is a series of six movements telling a story of letters exchanged between two lovers in the thirteenth century. “I Have Had Singing” is a shorter piece to close out the evening.

“It’s showcasing a guy who’s dying and has had a lot of pleasure in his life because of singing,” Romero said. Choral Arts alumni also joined in for “I Have Had Singing.”

“Carmina amoris” was written by Sametz in 2000 and premiered at Baker Hall in Zoellner Arts Center. Romero said Sametz always wanted the piece to be performed at Carnegie Hall.

The performers feel very strongly about the pieces they sang.

“Doc Sametz is a phenomenal composer,” Sam Fickel, ’17, said. “His symphony ‘Carmina amoris’ is remarkably well-written, and ‘I Have Had Singing’ is absolutely gorgeous.”

Phillip Basnage, ’17, had actually sung “I Have Had Singing” before with his boys’ chorus in California.

“It’s really cool to be singing it again with the composer,” he said.

The announcement of the performance was made nearly one year ago and was met with much excitement from members of Choral Arts. Barbara Tsaousis, ’18, said she was ecstatic when she learned of the performance.

“I’ve been in choir since elementary school, and I grew up 15 minutes from Manhattan, so to learn that I would be performing not only in one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world, but also one so close to home and in one of my favorite cities, was absolutely thrilling,” Tsaousis said.

Choral Arts was accompanied by an orchestra comprised of Lehigh Valley residents who performed alongside the group at Baker Hall two weeks ago. The soloists in the pieces were all vocal professors at Lehigh.

Choral Arts is comprised of four different singing groups that all performed at Carnegie Hall: Choral Union, involving students, faculty members and community members; the University Choir, composed of only students; Dolce, for women in the choir; and Glee Club, for men in the choir.

Romero said a few rehearsals for Carnegie Hall were held last semester, but that rehearsals this semester have heavily focused on the performance.

“This whole semester, so far, has been mostly comprised of practicing ‘Carmina amoris,’” Romero said, in addition to juggling practicing for Christmas Vespers to be performed next month at Packer Chapel.

The group had a packed schedule in New York leading up to the performance. Romero said all members traveled to the city at 7 a.m. Friday for a day including a rehearsal, lunch, another rehearsal and an hour-long break before arriving at Carnegie Hall at 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. performance.

After spending Friday night at the Westin in Manhattan, the University Choir sang at Yankee Stadium on Saturday morning with Lafayette’s choir.

“We’re singing a Lafayette-arranged piece of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘New York, New York’,” Romero said.

Despite this, students haven’t forgotten the Rivalry. John Larson, ’17, said it’s fitting that the concert falls on the same weekend as the Rivalry game.

“I can’t help but think, ‘I don’t see Lafayette’s choir singing in Carnegie this weekend,’” he said.

Sametz organized the logistics of the trip, including where everybody would be staying and arranged singing with Lafayette before the game.

Romero said that all students took the event very seriously.

“We have a no-drinking policy for 48 hours before the concert, and people are taking that very seriously because they want it to sound good and it’s our university we’re representing,” he explained.

As recruitment manager, Romero said the event has already impacted recruitment.

“We had the most amount of people trying out for choir ever,” he said. “There are a lot of people emailing me throughout the semester asking if they can try out for choir and join. Hopefully it’ll increase the numbers in future years too.”

What do performers hope to gain from this experience?

“Eternal glory,” Romero jokingly said. “It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Rachel Weckselblatt, ’17, said performing in such a magnificent place will provide an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment.

“I couldn’t conceive a better time for it to happen than in college surrounded with the people who most helped shape me into adulthood,” she said.

“I’d like to see the whole event, the whole weekend, bringing the LU community together,” Dan Shin, ’14, and current grad student, said. “The weekend isn’t about a part of Lehigh University. It’s about all of us as a whole. I hope people get to see that.”

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