The summer repertoire for the Summit Choral Society contains a suspicious number of New York-themed pieces.
Or perhaps it’s not so mysterious to see the likes of “New York, New York,” “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “New York State of Mind” on this season’s set list when you consider the group recently traveled to the Big Apple to perform at Carnegie Hall.
The little chorus from Summit joined forces with a handful of other choirs from all over the country, under the direction of composer John Rutter and in the company of a full orchestra, to perform Brahms’ Requiem on one of the most famous stages in the world.
The experience was absolutely fantastic and unbelievable, said Joni Thieme-Weinberg, trip chairman for the Choral Society. Thieme-Weinberg lived in New York for eight years when she was younger, occasionally performing in off-Broadway shows in the evenings.
“When I lived there, I sang at a lot of different places, but not at Carnegie Hall,” she said. “It’s very well-known, and when you are standing there on the stage inside this huge, cavernous building with all of the balconies and boxes and the sound — about 160 of us singing from nine different choral groups.”
Twenty-seven members of the Summit County group made the trip, working for months under director Jill Schroeder-Dorn to learn the intricacies of one of Brahms’ great works.
“As trip chairman, I give up; there’s nothing else I can do to top it,” Thieme-Weinberg said.
Excited from the start
Thieme-Weinberg said the first person to sign up for the New York trip was Tina Oberheide.
“I don’t normally sing with the Summit Choral Society,” Oberheide said. “I usually sing with our church choir at Lord of the Mountains, and Joni does, too. She approached me in the fall and said that the Choral Society needed sopranos for the trip.”
Oberheide said she jumped up and down a couple of times at the idea.
“To go to Carnegie Hall and sing there, to go to New York and the conductor — to be given that opportunity was thrilling for me,” she said. “The trip fulfilled every wish we dreamed of. It was a trip to be cherished.”
There’s a saying, Oberheide said, that when someone asks you how you get to perform at Carnegie Hall, the answer is always practice, practice, practice, and the Summit Choral Society definitely put in the time practicing.
“We started in January, and we practiced every week and sometimes twice a week until it was time to leave,” she said. “And then we practiced in New York for four or five hours a day for the few days before. We were pretty ready.”
To finally see Carnegie Hall from a viewpoint that few get to experience was amazing, Oberheide said.
“You go in a back way, and there are these plain waiting rooms in the back,” she said. “And you wait back there and then move on, but to look out at this incredible space, to look out and look up at mezzanines and how many people might be sitting there, and to hear the acoustics is spectacular and to be in New York City — and Carnegie Hall is very famous, so to be performing there is special.”
A life-changing trip
For Jonah Brooke, a tenor in the Summit Choral Society, going to New York was the culmination of a completely magical and miraculous series of events. Brooke had been playing in bands as a singer-songwriter for several years but had never been part of a choir when he moved to Summit County a few years ago.
“I was telling a co-worker that I needed to do more with music,” he said. “I had just joined a church and was baptized in August with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I thought I should be more involved with music and singing.”
The co-worker directed Brooke to the Summit Choral society, which he joined in January soon after hearing about the group’s planned trip to New York to sing at Carnegie Hall.
“I talked to Joni, and she knew how excited I was about going and I had sort of corresponded with her and someone approached her wanting to help people go who may have been working really hard to put all of the finances together to get to go,” Brooke said. “And that was basically the moment where she mentioned me. Honestly, I still haven’t been able to thank those people in person who helped with that. This is my opportunity to thank them through this article.”
With the financial help, Brooke was able to travel with the choir to New York.
“It was truly magical,” he said. “There was an adrenaline rush; that was the reason that there was a difference in the singing for me. There were maybe 10 or 12 spots throughout the piece that were very technically and difficult to sing, and in that performance, for the first time for all those sections that were so difficult, I nailed it; I sang every one of them perfectly.”
Brooke said there was something about the space that encouraged perfection.
“It wasn’t demanding, but there was something about it that was nurturing,” he said. “It was so beautiful to be in that space and to be singing those notes surrounded by so many other talented people — in the choir and the orchestra and looking directly at John Rutter — and seeing all of these seats filled with people on such a special day. … Being in the space was empowering in the sense that it assisted you to sing better than you’ve ever sung before.”
Because of his involvement with music through his church and the Summit Choral Society, Brooke said he feels a calling to go back to school and study music.
“I haven’t applied to go back to school yet, but it’s definitely going to be the next chapter of my life,” he said. “And I couldn’t be more excited to go through that process and be able to share with the people that I meet while I’m in school and through the application process about the experience that I’ve had singing at Carnegie Hall, so it’s absolutely life changing.”