The Gregory School choir was invited by Dr. Elizabeth Schauer, Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of Arizona, to perform, along with several other Tucson schools and the UA’s Symphonic Choir, the Missa Cellensis of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) at Carnegie Hall in New York City on April 28. With Dr. Chris Fresolone’s narrative, the participants tell their story.
The Missa Cellensis is a large scale choral work, containing sections that would challenge a professional choir. The piece is a setting of the Catholic Mass, which was a common text for composers to set from the 16th through 18th centuries. It is about 35 minutes long and spans seven movements.
Rehearsals of the Haydn Mass began in January. “Upon looking at the music, I was absolutely terrified,” Sheela Gowrisankaran ‘20 wrote. The choristers (and their director), showed resilience and gradually conquered section after section. They had two rehearsals with the other choirs and UA orchestra at the UA before the trip to NYC, and this helped the students realize what the end-product was going to sound like. Their hard work started to make sense.
“(Our choir) rehearsing such a big work alone was scary. I spent months waiting for it to click into place and become something beyond a bunch of confused children struggling with notes and rhythms. At the first combined rehearsal, I heard it: music. It was breathtaking to behold and made the many hours of grueling work worth the effort,” wrote Karina Schmit ‘20.
“Dr. Schauer was fantastic, armed with many memorable quotes,” Francesca Pieroni ‘23 wrote. “In our first rehearsal, after a section where the sopranos sang a high note for several measures, she giddily exclaimed that we ‘laid that note down like a street!’ This encourages us to sing with more confidence, and it was so funny (and effective too!).”
Once in New York, the group had two intense four-hour rehearsals with the other choirs in the hotel ballroom. Dr. Schauer honed the musical details and brought all 120 students, all of whom had been studying the piece with their own directors, together in one musical community. “The rehearsals in our hotel gave me a much better sense of how the piece was meant to sound. Dr. Schauer was so dedicated to making every note sound the best that it possibly could,” Alexandra Knope ‘23 wrote. “This piece is something that I never thought that I’d be capable of singing. Dr. Fresolone and Dr. Schauer, as well as the directors from the other schools, believed in all of us. The fact that over one hundred of us were able to coordinate after months of rehearsing without each other still amazes me.”
The group arrived early at Carnegie Hall for a dress rehearsal. “Standing on the Carnegie Hall stage was mesmerizing. I could hear everyone gasping and quietly shifting on the risers to take in this theater. It was gorgeous,” wrote Kira McNeill ‘20.
“I think it’s safe to say that we were all stunned by the building’s grandeur and the music we performed,” Ella Maltzman ‘19 agreed.
“The performance was the best we had all ever sung. I remember our choir rushing to each other in the dressing rooms, high-fiving and hugging and screaming and giggling. We were so proud of ourselves and our ability to sing that piece,” Kira wrote.
“Being one of only a few basses, I really had to sing out in order for my part to be heard, and doing this helped me improve my confidence in singing,” wrote Karl Ramus ‘22. ‘I feel a lot better about my ability, and I think I got over a mental block I had over singing ‘high’ notes.”
“The piece really came together well in the end, both in our own group as well as with the combined choir. Bringing it to life on the stage at Carnegie Hall was a bonus,” Noah Sharma ‘19 wrote.
“The concert itself was fantastic, and afterwards we were treated to a dinner cruise around New York Harbor. One parent mentioned to me later that her child felt so happy she almost cried,” wrote Dr. Chris Fresolone.
Stories about New York come quickly: The group visited the 9/11 museum, walked from their hotel to Central Park, spent time in Times Square (including seeing The Prom on Broadway), rode the subway, and enjoyed real bagels and pizza. (Dr. Fresolone is from New Jersey so he knows that NY bagels and pizza are the best.)
“If you want an exciting and eye-opening NYC experience, travel with 18 wide-eyed and wonderful teenage singers,” wrote drama teacher Ms. Lisa Bodden, who went on the trip as a chaperone. “There is no place in the world like New York and venturing there with such an enthusiastic, goofy, and lovely band of students made the trip unforgettable.”
“Getting to see New York for the first time and being able to perform on such an incredible stage was an experience I’ll never forget,” wrote Elisa Acuna ‘22.
“Though we did have tons of fun, there were some very deep, serious moments. For me, visiting the 9/11 museum was a haunting experience. I remember one letter, scrawled onto a wall, of two children talking about how they miss their dad and wish him happiness in whatever land he traveled to,” wrote Sheela.
Beyond the music-making and tourism, this choir created a bond. Most of the pictures taken from this trip contain TGS choristers embracing one another. “I thought the most amazing part of the trip would be Carnegie Hall, as I have been to New York more times than I can count, and I’ve obviously never sung at Carnegie Hall. However I realized that the magic of the trip wasn’t singing at Carnegie Hall; it was about the bond we shared,” wrote Madison Harland ‘22. “When we went on the cruise ship, for whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to stand on my own, possibly because of the adrenaline of being fresh off of our performance, the sleep deprivation (because trust me the only people getting any sleep on this trip were Noah and Karl), or the fact that we were on a boat. There was always someone there that I could lean on. This is a perfect metaphor for this trip. This group of people was what made the trip so special.”
“I am so proud of every single one of us,” wrote Yusi Wang ‘19. “Even though we are a small group, we were the strongest and most united group of all. I never felt so deeply connected with people, despite our different backgrounds, cultures, and languages. This singing experience brought us all together, and helped us realize the true meaning behind the 6 Cs. Big thanks to Dr. Fresolone who put this trip together and gave us this amazing opportunity.”
Please enjoy the recordings of the choir's performance of the Missa Cellensis of Franz Joseph Haydn.