Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two former residents to sing at Carnegie Hall

It is every singer’s dream to perform at New York City’s Carnegie Hall—one of the most prestigious concert venues in the world—and two former Fort Frances residents will be living that dream next week.
Annelise Hawrylak and Sarah Hallikas, who both currently reside in Toronto, are members of the Eastminster United Church choir that will be performing “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” by American composer Carol Barnett, alongside 11 other choirs (including one from Ireland) and a total of 270 choristers.

“The World Beloved” is “an unconventional pairing of sophisticated choral harmonies with the jaunty bluegrass chords of banjo and mandolin,” and was labelled a modern masterwork shortly after its premiere in 2007.
“It’s really an interesting piece,” noted Hallikas, noting it’s well-written with rich harmonies.
“The first time we sang through it, I didn’t think it sounded like a bluegrass piece,” she added.
“Then I listened to it online with the bluegrass band ‘Monroe Crossing,’ that it was composed for, and it was an entirely new piece . . . because it was so different to hear it with the band.”
But Hallikas insisted it’s not a simple piece to learn.
“It’s tricky,” she remarked. “You hear bluegrass and you think, ‘Country, that’s pretty easy.’
“But it’s got a lot of complex vocal harmonies and a lot of tricky rhythms between the choir and the bluegrass band that accompanies us.”
Hallikas and Hawrylak also will become part of history when they perform the choral mass there Monday as the choir is the first in the church’s 87-year history to sing at the prestigious concert hall.
“We’re pretty excited,” enthused Hawrylak, noting it’s always been one of her goals to sing at Carnegie Hall.
“But I didn’t think it would be before [I’m] 25,” she admitted.
“And that fact that it’s with a choir makes it that much better because I just love choir.”
Hawrylak said she enjoys working with the other singers for a common purpose.
“Most of the time in music, you are competing and not working together,” she reasoned. “Especially in musical theatre, it’s pretty cut-throat all the time.
“You have to be better then everyone else.
“But in choir, you get to be the same as everyone else and everyone is equal,” she added.
“You all have a voice, and then you get to make this wall of sound and that’s really great.”
Both women have a degree in music (voice performance) from the University of Brandon, with Hawrylak now attending the Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts.
“It’s a little unnerving because I just came out of [a] classical music school, so the goal for classical musicians is Carnegie Hall,” Hawrylak remarked.
“But the goal for musical theatre is Broadway,” she added. “So it’s funny that I come from musical theatre schools and I get to sing at Carnegie Hall.”
“It’s a huge deal—I’m astonished,” echoed Hallikas.
“It’s every singer’s dream to be singing on stage at Carnegie Hall, so to get this opportunity so young and it’s such a new interesting piece, it’s kind of mind-blowing.”
The pair, along with another friend of theirs, just joined the choir back in September. The conductor, Jacqueline Sadler, also teaches at the Randolph Academy.
At that time, the choir already had auditioned and been invited to perform as part of the concert, which is being staged by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY).
“We didn’t think we were going to be going [to New York] when we joined because they had already planned the trip and done a bunch of fundraising,” Hallikas recalled.
“We just sort of joined to stay active in music and singing.
“But a few weeks in, they asked us to go with them and we, of course, said yes.”
Hallikas noted while the 40-member choir performs an anthem for the worship service and leads the congregation in worship each Sunday, the focus of its weekly rehearsals for the last month-and-a-half has been the bluegrass mass.
“It’s our responsibility to have everything learned but musical decisions will be made by the actual conductor,” Hawrylak explained, noting Sadler will not be leading the blended group.
“It’s nice because there are choirs from all around the world coming together to sing about ‘The World Beloved.’
“It’s really heart-warming.”
In fact, Eastminster United Church choir is the only Canadian one to be invited as part of the concert.
“The choir received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers, as well as the exceptional quality of their audition recording,” said Dr. Jonathan Griffith, artistic director and principal conductor for DCINY.
“These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community,” he added.
Eastminster United Church choir members and their congregation have raised nearly $50,000 to pay the costs of travel to New York and the professional development fees associated with 10 hours of intensive choral workshop with maestro Nancy Menk to hone the complex performance.
The Minnesota-based bluegrass group, “Monroe Crossing,” will accompany the mass choir, featuring a fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, and bass.
“I’ve never sung with that many people before,” Hallikas noted. “It will be quite the adventure.”
Once they return home from the performance, the pair will continue to work toward their musical goals.
Hawrylak, for instance, will perform at the Toronto Fridge Festival through the Randolph Academy and then present the one-act musical comedy, “The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” in December.
After that, she hopes to pursue a career in musical theatre.
Hallikas, meanwhile, will continue working to save money for possibly further schooling. She is looking to pursue a career in opera.
“My goal is to work professionally and not have another job,” Hawrylak said.
“It would be nice to just make art.”

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