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How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Featured Photo from How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

You practice, practice, practice, and that’s just what the young singers in the Markham Woods Middle School Chorus did

For choir teacher Leslie Antmann, hearing her students sing their first note at the prestigious Carnegie Hall was a powerful moment that she’ll never forget.

“It was a spiritual experience, just the sound that came out of the choir,” says Leslie, choral director at Markham Woods Middle School. “It was so mature and refined, and the acoustics there are just exquisite.”

The school’s Black and Silver Singers traveled to New York City in May for a once-in-a-lifetime performing experience. The accomplished group joined vocal forces with other middle-school choirs from around the country for a one-night-only show.

Their epic field trip was two years in the making and involved an extensive School Board approval process and a great deal of fundraising, Leslie says.                                                                                       

Thirty-four students and 10 parent and teacher chaperones traveled from Lake Mary to the Big Apple.

The long and winding road to New York began when Leslie was contacted in the summer of 2017 by Russell Robinson, one of her former music professors. He was in talks with a New York-based company about producing a concert of his compositions and arrangements, to be sung by middle-school choirs. Russell invited Leslie’s students to participate, and it was an offer that was too good to refuse.

When the Markham Woods kids learned they’d be performing in the same venue as the world’s most famous singers and musicians, they were over the moon. Everyone from composer George Gershwin to The Beatles to cellist Yo-Yo Ma has performed at Carnegie Hall, which opened in 1891.

“The students knew that the place they were going was a big deal,” says Leslie, who has taught at Markham Woods Middle for 13 years. “It was by far the fanciest and most beautiful place in which they’ve ever sung.”

The Black and Silver Singers are an auditioned group of seventh- and eighth-grade students. The hardworking kids learned eight new pieces of music for their May 5 concert in NYC, in addition to the material they were required to master for their shows here at home.

The Carnegie Hall show, titled Fresh Sounds, was conducted by Russell and produced by Distinguished Concerts International New York. The songs Russell composed or arranged covered a variety of genres including jazz, folk, and an African-American spiritual. One number was performed in Italian, and another was sung in Zulu, a language of South Africa.

The students had two half-day practice sessions with the other choirs and a dress rehearsal to fine-tune everything before the big concert. Being conducted by Russell was an enlightening experience for the chorus groups, and for the teachers observing the rehearsals.

“It’s not often that you get to work with the composer of a piece of music you’re singing," Leslie says. “They got to work from the interpretation of the person who created it.”

When they weren’t rehearsing or performing, the Black and Silver Singers and their chaperones spent nearly every waking moment sightseeing. They visited many popular tourist attractions, including Central Park, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, and they saw My Fair Lady on Broadway.

Loriana Ziccardi and Annabel Kovacsik were among the Markham Woods eighth graders who went on the trip. During their five days in New York, the kids forged even stronger bonds with one another.

“I got closer with people I’ve just talked to before but never really was friends with,” says Loriana, who was in disbelief when she first heard about the Carnegie Hall opportunity.

Annabel says no future choral performance will ever surpass the one she and her classmates shared in the Big Apple.

“It was life-changing,” says Annabel, whose mom flew up to be part of the Black and Silver cheering section at the concert. “None of us wanted to leave New York because we would never get that experience again. For the eighth-graders, this was our last year at Markham Woods, and we were leaving Mrs. Antmann and this amazing choir.”

Loriana says when they took the stage at Carnegie Hall, a sense of relief washed over her.

“We’d been looking forward to that night for so long, and we finally got there,” Loriana says. “A lot of hard work was put into it.”

Prior to the NYC trip, the farthest Leslie’s choir kids had traveled to perform was a place much closer to home – Walt Disney World.

“To have all that lead-up to the concert, it was almost like planning a wedding,” Leslie says. “They are such a dedicated and talented group of students. It was really special to be able to offer them this experience.”

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