Some people train their entire lives to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Others find themselves in the esteemed music hall before they’ve passed their drivers license tests.
Such is the case for the Orangewood Christian School Choir, which performed at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 20. The 22-person group, composed of students ranging from ninth to twelfth grade, took a five-day trip to the Big Apple to perform in a 400-person group of students from across the globe.
“I’m so proud of them; I can’t even describe it,” said Laura Nelson, fine arts director and choral director for Orangewood. “It’s a real show with the best of the best. It doesn’t get any better.”
Nelson has been a teacher for 34 years and has served as Orangewood’s director for nine years. This is the third year running she’s taken her choir to New York City to perform. It started when a Manhattan-based concert group contacted Nelson offering her choir an audition for a Broadway production of “The Secret Garden” in the Lincoln Center. The performance was comprised of two choruses of 400 students from across the world singing with Broadway stars.
“The music was difficult (in the beginning); we were a bit overwhelmed,” Nelson said. “None of us knew what a big deal it was until we got there and saw the level of star power that was in the show.”
The chorus received its music for the February show in October of last year and practiced for an hour every school day leading up to the performance.
This year’s production, the first for the choir to perform at Carnegie Hall, was titled “Broadway Classics: A Concert at Carnegie Hall.” Students performed a compilation of pieces from “Titanic,” “Ragtime,” “Parade,” “Sister Act” and more.
“It gets stressful (practicing) at first, but it gets easier as we go along,” said Grace Hanna, an Orangewood choir sophomore. “By the end, we’re usually pretty happy with where we are.”
Hanna, who says she started singing as soon as she could speak, always hoped she’d play at a venue as large as Carnegie Hall.
“It’s eye-opening; you’re in this huge hall facing thousands of people,” Hanna said. “It was on my bucket list for sure. I just never thought I’d get the chance to.”
Both the cast and audience have been star-studded. Nelson said her chorus has performed with Rachel Dratch of “Saturday Night Live” and Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock,” while Neil Patrick Harris and Lin-Manuel Miranda have paid to watch the show.
“We sing with the New York Chamber Orchestra, Tony award-winning actors, directors, people that are the top of the business right now,” Nelson said. “They treat the students like they’re professionals as a part of the production.”
Which is just how Orangewood senior Seth Niquette likes it.
“I have more confidence in my singing and being able to be up on stage in front of people,” said Niquette, who has spent three years performing as a bass with the group.
Niquette, a senior, aims to be accepted into the University of Central Florida’s theater program and hopes his involvement at the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall will help his chances.
“Hearing the other cast and crew’s experiences and stories, and almost wanting to follow in their footsteps, has given me a good guideline to follow,” Niquette said.
The trip itself had some curveballs however — Nelson said 15 pieces of luggage were left in Orlando. But, overall, it was another successful outing.
“When you see it all together, you wish that more people from Orlando could see what our kids are doing,” she said. “It’s fun to hand it off to the directors once you get up there because you know you’ve done your job and it’s up to them and up to the kids.”