There’s an old joke involving a tourist in New York City who is trying to find one of the Big Apple’s landmark music venues. Finally realizing that he needs directions, he stops at a newsstand and asks the vendor “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without missing a beat, the vendor replies “Practise!”
A dozen members of the Sage Sound Singers choir have been doing just that for more than a year. Their hard work and dedication will pay off on June 27, when they will join 120 other singers from around B.C. and beyond on the stage of Carnegie Hall, one of the most prestigious venues in the world for classical music, to perform two pieces.
The choir members — who hail from Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and Clinton — have been rehearsing the two works under the baton of music director Michelle Reid. Their last rehearsal was on June 18, and the local singers were joined by another 18 or so singers from around B.C. who will also be taking part in the concert for a final run-through.
They were conducted by concertmaster Cvetozar Vutev, a violinist with the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra who also works with the Kamloops Brandenburg Orchestra, the Chamber Musicians of Kamloops, and Vivace Chorale Kamloops. It was Vutev who, a year ago, began contacting choirs in the Southern and Central Interior to see if they would be interested in forming a choir to perform at Carnegie Hall.
“It was on his bucket list,” says Jim Mertel, vice president and treasurer of Twisted Desert Music, under whose umbrella Sage Sound Singers operates. “He was asked by MidAmerica Productions [which arranges concerts at Carnegie Hall for choirs across North America] if he would be interested in forming a choir to perform there, and he jumped at the chance and began canvassing local choirs.”
A dozen local choir members signed up, as did another 50 people from around the province. The two pieces to be performed are the “Missa Brevis in C Minor” by B.C. composer Imant Raminsh, which will be conducted by Vutev, and the “Lion Teeth Suite” by Swedish composer Anders Edenroth, which will be receiving its world premiere at the Carnegie Hall concert.
“They’re both difficult pieces,” says Mertel, who has been a member of Sage Sound Singers for many years and is one of the choir members who will be making the trip.
“The choir will be on stage for about 40 minutes. It’s really stretched all of us.”
For the better part of a year the local singers have been rehearsing twice a week every two weeks, with a Sunday rehearsal in Ashcroft and a Tuesday rehearsal in Kamloops. Mertel says that at first the Sunday rehearsals were just attended by the local singers, but they were gradually joined by more and more singers from Kamloops, Logan Lake, and as far away as Prince George.
“It started out as just us, and then the Kamloops people realized how good a teacher Michelle is and began coming out as well,” explains Mertel.
“This has put us on the map choir-wise in this province. We were honoured when Cvetozar asked us to be a part of this. You can’t be a crappy choir to sing at Carnegie Hall, and we were thrilled he thought we were good enough to do it. The Kamloops people didn’t know we existed, but we’ve made so many friends and they know we’re a darned good little choir.”
The singers were occasionally joined by Vutev, and once a month or so pianist Dimiter Terziev, a longtime collaborator with the Sage Sound Singers, would come out to accompany them. Earlier this year the practices ramped up to two rehearsals every week, and on June 3 the singers were able to perform both pieces at St. Andrews on 6th Street in Kamloops.
Imant Raminsh was at the concert to hear his “Missa Brevis in C Minor”, and Mertel says he was “quite pleased” with the singers. “That’s pretty important, coming from the composer.”
Mertel, who is also the business manager for the Sage Sound Singers, managed the process of registering and booking some three dozen of the B.C. singers who will be going to New York. “I’m a good administrator!” he says with a laugh. A total of 63 people from B.C. will be making the trip, with more singers coming from Clearwater, Pritchard, Vernon, and Kelowna, and 132 people will be singing in total.
After all the rehearsals, and with departure day less than a week away, Mertel says that the mood of the Sage Sound Singers is “excitement with a little trepidation.”
“It’s like it always is. At first you don’t think you’re good enough; it’s ‘Gosh, will we do okay?’ Then something magic happens when the performance comes.
“Everyone is excited, and we’re talking about the things we’re going to do in New York. It’s brought us together with people we didn’t know, and we’ve made friends in Kamloops. We’ve all done the best we can, so we know we’ll be okay.”