How do you get to Carnegie Hall, besides practice, practice, practice? This past Memorial Day weekend, the Rhodes Singers made it to the celebrated concert hall thanks to Dr. William Skoog, choral director and chair of the Department of Music at Rhodes.
MidAmerica Productions, a company based in New York City that brings together conductors, soloists, and instrumental and choral ensembles to perform in cities across the United States, invited Skoog to serve as a guest conductor at Carnegie Hall, as he has done in other national and international festivals. The guest conductor selects the music for the performance, then MidAmerica invites choirs to participate.
Though the choir for the concert at Carnegie Hall was made up of members of several choirs from around the country, many were Rhodes Singers, both past and present. Almost all of the current Rhodes Singers were able to take part in the experience. “We ended up with 43 of the Rhodes Singers signing up for the trip; we had 52 registered for the spring semester. I was really thrilled," says Skoog.
The New York trip provided a special bonus for the Rhodes Singers. After accepting the offer to conduct at Carnegie Hall, Skoog reached out to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, where the Rhodes Singers had performed in 2014. To his delight, rather than being asked to submit the customary audition tape and sample program for consideration, he received an email from the director of music that said, “Your singers were wonderful and memorable; what date would you like? If it’s open, it’s yours.” Skoog was able to schedule the performance for around Memorial Day weekend so that the students would be able to have the experience of performing in both venues in one trip. (Singers also received invitations from two churches in the area, so Skoog scheduled a mini-tour to allow them to perform in more venues, for more audiences).
While St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a concert venue that featured music from Singers’ spring 2017 concert, both venues featured Sunrise Mass by Ola Gjeilo. The Carnegie Hall concert was the entire work, performed with the New England Symphony Orchestra, a professional orchestra from the region.
Rhodes Singer Caryn Hawkins ’18 says of the experience, “Getting to sing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was simply unreal. The space is absolutely sublime and our sound went on forever. Our powerful moments had never sounded stronger, and it was an amazing feeling to capture the attention of passersby and tourists, to see them stop what they were doing and listen for five minutes.” She adds that she is grateful for the chance to become a part of Carnegie Hall’s history, and to share it with her classmates. “Being in New York and having the privilege of singing in a few of the nation’s most revered, sacred places with some of the most wonderful people I know is an experience I’ll always remember.”
Singers ranging from recent graduates to those who had just completed their first year at Rhodes were able to go on the tour. Jenna Gilley ’20 believes that being a part of the Rhodes Singers in her first year at the college has shaped her experience already. ‘The group has really given me that close-knit, family feeling at Rhodes. I’ve become closer to so many other members this trip," says Gilley. She also values the opportunity she had to work with a unique group of peers. “Like Dr. Skoog always says, this is the last chance you’ll be able to perform this music with this exact same group of people. Seeing what we’ve been able to achieve as a group exemplifies what Rhodes students are able to accomplish.”
Skoog says that one reason being the leader of the Rhodes Singers is interesting and rewarding is because the group forms a cross-section of all of the students on campus. This is also why Helen Hope ’18 finds involvement with the Rhodes Singers to be so important to her education in the liberal arts. “The opportunity for me to be a part of Singers solidified my choice to go to a liberal arts college. Even as a non-music major, I can still participate in a renowned choir and have the opportunity to go on tours to places like St. Patrick’s and Carnegie Hall, doing something that I love, but am not pursuing as a career.”
“The experience is just once in a lifetime. This is so important to me to offer to our students, and I hope that this will have created a mountain-top experience first, then a lasting memory which students will never forget," adds Skoog. "I hope this will be etched upon their memories if they live to be 104. To be able to share that with them will be amazing and powerful."
By Katherine Hancock ’19
Dr. Skoog and the Rhodes Singers in rehearsal during spring semester.