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James Clemens Choir experiences thrill of Carnegie Hall

MADISON – Persistence and dedication led James Clemens High School Choir to perform on one of the world’s most famous and coveted venues — Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Choirs of America invited students to fill two 400-member mass choirs. Each school choir sang, and each mass choir presented three works.

James Clemens’ spotlight song was “Ubi Caritas” by Ola Gjeilo. The entire 800-voice festival choir performed the finale, “Your Soul Is Song” by Jake Runestad.

“This trip provided us with such a great opportunity to share and learn as a family of teachers, students and parents,” choir teacher and conductor Harris Gessner said. “As we explored new cultures, historical landmarks and museums, we grew closer as a program. Our own performance became the icing on the cake of learning more about each other and sharing great experiences.”

Gessner commended his students “presence of mind throughout the trip. New York can be overwhelming … yet our students (did) a great job of making sure to soak it all in. Whether walking through a museum gallery, backstage tours or the 9/11 museum, I noticed maturity and appreciation from our students.”

While conducting in Carnegie Hall, Gessner’s first thought “was just how beautiful the students sounded and how proud I was to be with them on stage.”

Gessner hopes his students felt “the revelation that classical music or high art doesn’t live on some other plane where we shouldn’t aspire. It’s ready to be experienced, appreciated and, for those who will work for it, participated in.”

The students toured Times Square, Central Park, Grand Central Station, Wall Street, Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan. They chose an excursion to Macy’s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natural History Museum or High Line to Chelsea Market. They attended “Aladdin” on Broadway.

James Clemens junior Campbell Brown “enjoyed walking the streets of New York and seeing all the sights. It was awe-inspiring. I was honestly just excited by singing in a place with such a reputation as Carnegie Hall.”

Sophomore Anthony Cruz learned that New York’s food culture is outstanding. “I enjoyed soaking in the culture with my friends alongside me — how amazing the experience and how lucky I was.”

“I learned about other cultures like Newfoundland,” sophomore Emma Williams said. “I enjoyed making friends with students from other schools. I thought how gorgeous Carnegie Hall was and how excited I was to perform.”

On the first night in New York, students evacuated their hotel due to a small fire in the shared basement of the hotel/McDonald’s/church/drugstore. “We were outside from 1:30 to 3:30 a.m. Everyone was safe; no one was in danger. Students and adults, especially Mr. Gessner, handled the situation with great maturity,” parent volunteer Terri Lovett said.

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