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From Biddeford to the Big Apple

The Biddeford Singers make the trip to New York City to perform at the iconic Carnegie Hall.

Taylor Turgeon, Staff Writer

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On the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 57th Street, there sits a 125-year old auditorium that has housed some of the biggest names in music, such as the Beatles, the Boston Symphony, Bruce Springsteen, and now, the Biddeford Singers.

After two years of planning, the Maine Festival Chorus, comprised of the Biddeford Singers and six other choirs from Maine, came together on Sunday, April 17th to perform eight songs in front of a sold-out crowd at one of the world’s most prestigious concert venues. The opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City arose back in 2014, when choir director Chris Ferrell received a call from another local director.

“Two years ago, I got a phone call from Rob Westerberg, the choral director at York and also the choir director at the Portland Community Chorus,” said Ferrell. “And he had mentioned in a rehearsal that they were doing Carnegie, and that York was going to go and that Windham was going to go, and that they were going to be inviting some others to try and get this big massive choir together.”

After debating whether to approach Westerberg about the trip or not, Ferrell decided it was too big of an opportunity to let go to waste.

“I went to him and I said, ‘Hey, we’re looking at traveling to New York next year, and we were going to do the Heritage Festival, but I’d be happy to not do that and do this instead,’” said Ferrell, laughing. “And he said, ‘Let me think on it,’ and he called me later that day and offered for us to go.”

Conducted by Rob Westerberg from York and Richard Nickerson from Windham, The Maine Festival Chorus consisted of the Portland Community Chorus, the Windham High School Chamber singers, the Windham High School Chamber Singers Alumni Chorus, the York Chamber Singers, the York Treble Choir, the Oxford Hills Chamber Singers, and the Biddeford Singers. While normally in front of his students, Ferrell had the chance to join them instead.

“I actually just got to be a performer, which was super cool,” said Ferrell. “I sang seven of the songs with them and then played percussion on one of the songs.”

According to Ferrell, the Singers had no problem adjusting to the new conductors.

“We try to do things like this where they get out and see other conductors,” said Ferrell. “To be prepared for anyone that steps in front of you is one of the things that I push them for.”

New conductors didn’t phase them, but the change in numbers did. For freshman Alyssa Landry, performing with the Singers this year was a new experience in and of itself, and being thrown into the Maine Festival Chorus posed another learning curve for the newbie.

“I think they’re [the upperclassmen Singers] used to performing with all these people and other voices and, so, it was just a very new experience, especially for me,” said Landry. “To go from just the Singers to 200 other voices was just a really big change.”

In order to keep up with that change and blend with those 200 other voices, the Singers practiced relentlessly all school year. After receiving the material in the early fall, senior Trevor Puckett said they started working on it right away, individually and as a group.

“We’ve spent so much time working on all of this for just a half hour performance,” said Puckett. “I can’t even tell you how many hours and hours and hours we put into those songs just for them to be done once.”

And once they arrived in New York, the practicing didn’t stop. Although their days revolved around their rehearsals, they managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and other tourist activities as well.

“We walked around Times Square, went to see the 9/11 Memorial, took a ferry ride, and did a few other things while we were down there,” Landry said.

Following an evening spent at a Broadway show and a morning spent on the Staten Island Ferry, the Singers took the time to rest Sunday afternoon before their dress rehearsal. Once they arrived at Carnegie Hall that night, everyone was mesmerized, especially senior Ally Demeule.

All

Ally Demeule, Senior

You’re kind of starstruck,” said Demeule. “You see pictures, but it doesn’t prepare you for what it’s actually going to be like.”

— Ally Demeule

After plenty of walking and waiting around, it was time for the Maine Festival Chorus to take the stage.

“We were all filed out onto the stage,” said Demeule. “There’s like 3,000 seats and every single one of them is filled, and it’s dead silent, and you’re just trying to not move; you’re just trying to blend in. Then Mr. Westerberg came out, and as soon as he went up and gave us all a smile, we were just like, ‘Okay, we’re going to be fine.’”

Despite the typical feeling of butterflies before a performance, the Singers were able to “chill out” by the constant reassurance and support from the whole group.

“Obviously I was nervous,” said Landry. “But I was very comforted by the directors. I felt very prepared going into it, and the fact that I was surrounded by all these other people who were feeling the same thing was kind of relieving.”

Although one performer passed out momentarily on stage, that didn’t stop the choir from delivering the show they worked so hard for.

“We went into the concert and a girl passed out,” said Demeule. “She locked her knees [causing loss of blood circulation] and was very dehydrated. We were all just worried, but she got right back up and continued singing.”

After their last note resonated through the auditorium and after their final parting with the stage, the choir watched the rest of the show before getting the chance to meet the lyricist and composer of one of the songs they performed.

“The really cool thing about this set was that all eight pieces were written by living composers,” said Ferrell. “One of the pieces that we did was a song called Jenny, and both the lyricist and the composer were in the audience, and it was the first time that either of them had heard the piece live. So that was really cool for them to be able to hear it at Carnegie Hall for the first time ever, and to meet them after the show was super awesome.”

Their performance in front of five levels of 2,804 filled seats was deemed “simply a first-rate performance” by the infamous New York Concert Review website, who also claimed the Maine Festival Chorus was one of the best vocal ensembles they’ve heard. For the Singers, the experience only made them better.

“Every time you sing, you get better and better,” said Puckett. “You learn to blend more but also be able to have your own individual voice.”

According to Demeule, performing on such a world-renowned stage gave her and the other Singers a certain confidence boost.

“It really just opens up your eyes and shows you that anyone can do this,” said Demeule. “I can become a professional. I could do this. It’s really eye-opening, just getting that experience so young in your career.”

As for their director, he couldn’t be more proud of how his singers conducted themselves throughout the trip.
“It has been one of the, if not the, single greatest, rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had as a teacher,” said Ferrell. “I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “From Biddeford to the Big Apple”

  1. Shana Lambert on May 14th, 2016 1:09 pm

    My two daughters Taylor and Victoria Lambert were performing. Their Dad and I are very proud of them. We love you!

    [Reply]

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