It all began with the Lutheran Schools Music Festival. Mark Riddles, who used to be the director of music at First Presbyterian Church in Flint, Mich. served as the choral/vocal judge for the Frankenmuth-area Festival for a number of years. A colleague and friend of Dr. Scott Hyslop (director of the St. Lorenz Middle School Choir), Riddles went on to work for Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY)—a production company affiliated with Carnegie Hall and based in Manhattan.
Riddles called Hyslop in January of 2016 and told him about this new work commissioned by DCINY from Sir Karl Jenkins, a distinguished British composer. Cantata Memoria: For the Children of Aberfan was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster, which was a catastrophic avalanche of waste rock in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan on October 21, 1966, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The music was around 50 minutes in length and scored for a large SATB (adult) choir, Treble Choir (children’s voices), soloists, and symphony orchestra. Riddles said that, when this project came to his desk, he immediately thought of the school choir at St. Lorenz. He told Hyslop, “I believe your choirs would be a great asset to the premiere.”
Hyslop got to work and sent a choir audition recording to DCINY. On February 15, 2016, he received an invitation letter from Dr. Jonathan Griffith, DCINY’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, saying: “In recognition of your dedication to musical excellence and due to the high quality of your audition recording it is with great pleasure that I extend an invitation to you and the St. Lorenz Lutheran Middle School Choir to participate in the United States and Carnegie Hall Premiere of a new work by Sir Karl Jenkins on the DCINY Concert Series in New York City. (…) Congratulations to you and your singers on this wonderful achievement and recognition.”
The invitation extended was for a 5-day residency program, which Dr. Griffith proceeded to explain in the letter: “The residency includes two half-days of rehearsals and clinics, culminating in a performance accompanied by Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, with myself on the podium. (…) I am excited about the prospect of including you and your singers in pursuit of a glorious and memorable concert.”
In the press release issued by DCINY, Griffith said, “It is quite an honor just to be invited to perform in New York. These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community. This is an event of extreme pride for everybody and deserving of the community’s recognition and support.”
Forty-four of Hyslop’s eighty-nine middle school choir students were able to commit to the trip. The North American premiere was given at the Isaac Stern Auditorium (main auditorium) in Carnegie Hall in New York City on Sunday, January 15, 2017. The adult choir had 200+ voices from all over the world. The forty-four students from St. Lorenz were joined by an additional twenty-five students from the Sussex County Children’s Choir of New Jersey to make up the treble choir portion of the combined forces. “As far as I know, this is the first appearance of a Lutheran Grade School on stage at Carnegie Hall,” said Hyslop.
The students spent about 10 hours rehearsing in the clinics with the conductor, and the rest of the time was spent visiting famous sites of the Big Apple.
In a Facebook post immediately after the concert, Hyslop said, “The concert this evening was nothing short of spectacular! I am over the moon proud of the Middle School Choir from St. Lorenz. GREAT KIDS!!!!” One of the students later said to her mother: “Mom, I didn’t want to get off that stage!”
In a post-concert review, critic Warren Lee said, “The chorus is to be congratulated on a very polished performance which suggested a high level of preparation.”
Congratulations to Dr. Hyslop and the St. Lorenz Middle School Choir for their hard work, which awarded them this amazing opportunity!
Photos courtesy of Karen Zehnder