By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
There are concert halls … and there are concert halls … but probably the most heralded of all concert venues would be Carnegie Hall in Midtown Manhattan, located just a couple of blocks south of New York City’s Central Park.
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose funding built the hall in 1891, didn’t want performances there to strictly be for enthusiasts of classical music, so abiding his wishes, through the years the famed Carnegie Hall has been host to many different genres of music: jazz, popular, swing, country, and yes, even rock and roll! Benny Goodman’s orchestra, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, Judy Garland, Ike & Tina Turner, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and even rapper Jay Z, as well as speakers and lecturers such as Mark Twain and Winston Churchill were among varied guests.
Just within the last couple of weeks, contemporary Christian artists Big Daddy Weave marked their 20th anniversary as a group by debuting at Carnegie Hall. Accompanying them on the stage was a backup choir of over 200 voices with members from around the country … including 23 choir members from local Jewel City Church!
Jewel City Pastor Robert Shingleton explained how the invitation came about, saying, “We hosted Big Daddy Weave at a concert here at our church a few years ago, and our Music Director Carrie Hill and our choir drew their attention and respect. When they sought members to come and be part of their backup choir, they contacted Carrie and invited members of our choir to participate. She took that offer to the choir, and many were excited to go.”
Carrie said the call from Big Daddy Weave’s promoter came last Spring, and sheet music as well as rehearsal tracks for the January 2018 concert were sent to them in November so they could begin to practice in advance.
“There was a choir from Florida, one from Texas, one from Alabama, plus some smaller groups and individuals from the New England area. We represented West Virginia and were so honored to be included for this performance,” she stated. “There were 23 choir members who elected to participate, and a few spouses and family members went along as well.”
Making arrangements to go so far in advance gave them ample time to hold some fundraising events to help with the cost of the trip. They held a bag lunch fundraiser, sold peaches and apples in the fall, and also had an indoor yard sale in the church’s gymnasium.
“Our efforts were very successful, raising about $550 per person for each of the choir members, which covered about half the cost of the trip for each member. The rest they funded themselves,” Carrie noted.
The group (totaling 36) left on Thursday, January 25th by charter bus and arrived that evening, with all choirs and orchestra members rehearsing seven hours on Friday at Calvary Baptist Church in NYC. The following day was a dress rehearsal in Carnegie Hall prior to Saturday evening’s performance.
“It wasn’t all work!” she added. “We put in some late nights, trying to pack in as much as we possibly could in the two free evenings we had in the City. We walked in Times Square, Central Park, had dinner together and some of us saw a Broadway show. One of the perks of the trip that was offered to us for participating was a dinner cruise around the Hudson Bay where we got to see the Statue of Liberty. It was thrilling – especially for a few who were making their very first visit to New York City!”
She described their initial entry to the landmark Carnegie Hall. “When we were met at the door, we were told that as we walked in, we should take a moment to just breathe it all in. Our guide explained to us that over a century ago when the concert hall first opened, it was the Russian composer Tchaikovsky who was invited to make his American debut at the opening. It was suggested that we think of all the musicians who had performed there and let it sink in that now we would be on that same stage. I can tell you that it was more than a little overwhelming and truly an experience of a lifetime!” Carrie said.
Carnegie Hall seats over 3,000 in the audience, and this concert was nearly a complete sell-out. It included a full two hours of music with the choir singing 15 songs with Big Daddy Weave.
Carrie concluded, “Our participating choir members were from different generations – from older people to a 10th grader at Lincoln High School. It was a powerful trip and enjoying this experience together brought our group very close together. We made memories we’ll never, ever forget!”
Before leaving for home on Sunday, the group rose early, got on the subway, and made their way to the Brooklyn Tabernacle whose 200-member choir is known worldwide. They attended worship services there and got to hear that renowned choir before boarding for their return trip.
This was no doubt an invitation that doesn’t come to many, and Jewel City choir members felt very blessed to have shared the experience of performing on a stage that has hosted so many renowned artists. Certainly it will remain a once-in-a-lifetime memory.
Participating choir members included: Director Carrie Hill; Tenors – Adam Perine, Scott Beverly, Gary Fink, George Rice, David Rice; Basses – Bill Bennett, Jerry Bennett, Bruce Hadsell; Altos – Allison Satterfield, Tina McIntyre, Nancy Weaver, Johanna Santy, Jessica Freeman; Sopranos – Gina Hawkins, Gayle Oberacker, Linda Richards, Cyndee Cayton, Shirle Dunlop, Sandra Saurborn, Laura Ashcraft, Barbara Wheeler, and Ramona Weekly.