Thursday, February 28, 2008

San Marcos Madrigals ready to shine


Every year, the San Marcos High School Madrigal Singers head off to a season-culminating choral festival.
Usually held in California, it’s inarguably the most important performance of the year and the payoff for endless hours of practice.
So when vocal teacher and conductor Carolyn Teraoka-Brady told her 25 students that this year they’d be heading to New York City to perform at the illustrious, prestigious, and all-together imposing Carnegie Hall — well, it’s safe to say it got them a bit excited.

“This is a very big deal,” said senior Michael Ochi, president of the Madrigals. “…Never did I expect to be singing in Carnegie Hall.”
The Royals are joining three other high school choirs nationwide selected from a pool of 71 groups to perform with one of the foremost orchestras in the nation, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Conducting the performance of Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem, Op. 45” is Dr. Craig Jessop, music director and conductor of the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
“It’s such an achievement,” junior Kristy Hepp said. “… I don’t think we can do anything next year to top this.”
The students will also get their 15 minutes of fame — well, more like 10 — when they perform a selection of short pieces on their own prior to joining the other three choirs for Brahms’ magnum opus.
About a year ago, they had no idea it was coming. The faintest flicker of stepping out onto the legendary Perelman Stage probably never crossed their minds. And it was only a dim glow for Teraoka-Brady.
“It just seemed like such a long shot,” she said.
In the midst of last-minute preparations for a regional festival last year, she spotted the application on her desk and quickly threw together recordings of previous performances.
“I just put the CD together the night before it was due and then I completely forgot about it,” she said.
A month and a half later, a New York area code lit up her phone. They had been selected. After telling her students the next day, she started leading the way up a prodigious mountain.
Brahms’ piece is not beginner material to say the least. Weighing in as his longest work at an hour and 15 minutes, the seven-movement composition is challenging and diverse, jumping from sweet and gentle to punchy and intense, said senior Chelsea Chaves, head of the soprano section.
“It’s taken a whole year,” she said. “…It’s so extensive and so difficult. We really had to conquer it.”
After Teraoka-Brady gave them the easiest movement to study over the summer, they returned in the fall and started wading through the complex material. They also found out in the fall that they’d be performing the composition in German.
The Madrigals always perform a diverse set of music each year that usually includes a foreign-language piece, Ochi said. In previous years, it’s been French, Italian, Spanish, even Latin, but not German.
“Sometimes it’s a shot in the dark,” Hepp said about trying to figure out how German words should be pronounced.
But Teraoka-Brady said after struggling in early months, the group started to find their rhythm and worked through the last few movements with relative ease.
“The kids have just latched on,” she said. “They’ve really taken it to heart and it’s made them such a great group.”
They got some help in January when Dr. Jessop showed up to give them a few pointers. Hepp described the experience of working with the esteemed conductor as unreal. He gathered them in a circle around him and essentially danced with them, she said, swaying and thrusting his hands toward each section.
The experience taught them a great deal.
“It showed us we had a long way to go,” senior Landon Ranck said.
“It was also an encouraging experience in that it showed us how good we could be, rather than how bad we were,” Ochi added.
Spending an hour and a half every day rehearsing, along with practice sessions outside of school, has turned them into a tight-knit group of friends.
“Partly because of our teacher and partly because of our experiences, this has become one of the most important parts of our lives,” Ranck said.
After leaving for New York on Wednesday, the group will spend several days of intense rehearsal with Dr. Jessop, the orchestra and the three other choirs before taking the stage on March 10. Teraoka-Brady, who flew to Salt Lake City in the fall to work with Dr. Jessop and participate in the rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, said she is ready to hand over the reins and enjoy the performance.
“I can hardly believe it’s finally here,” she said.
Getting ready to venture across the country is always a difficult task, but Teraoka-Brady has plenty of experience. Two years ago, she took the Madrigals to the “National Festival of Gold” in New York City, where they picked up a first place score. In late March, she’ll be off again, this time with the women’s ensemble, Enchante, to participate at a festival in London and Paris.
Nonetheless, it’s an expensive trip and although Carnegie Hall is picking up the tab for the orchestra, conductor and music, the students had to pull together $2,200 each to make the trek. They held bake sales and a benefit dinner, went Christmas caroling and spread the word around the community.
Now that the performance is nearly a week away, Teraoka-Brady said her students are brimming with enthusiasm.
“They’re excited now,” she said. “But when they hear that orchestra playing in Carnegie Hall, it’s going to be a special moment for all of them.”

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