38 Presentation of Mary Students Stepped out of Hudson and into the Most Famous Music Hall in the World
June 30, 2017
by Len Lathrop
The Carnegie Hall experience was something that few students will ever have. Now consider that they sang in Spanish. Due to their hard work and preparation, these young performers shined, with many of the PMA contingency being rewarded with solo parts.
Stepping back for a minute, maybe you don’t have the full picture yet. Here is the press release for the event:
“For immediate release – New York, NY – On June 17, 2017, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Song/Play, an evening performance featuring the world premiere of La Avispa Brava for children’s voices by Venezuelan composer Alberto Grau, led by choral conductor Maria Guinand. The concert also includes a performance of Graus’ La Doncella, conducted by Venezuelan choral conductor Cristian Grases. The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra also performs works by Chabrier, Massenet, Falla and Turina directed by Dr. Ernest Pereira.
Maria Guinand is an internationally renowned choral conductor who directs the Cantoría Alberto Grau, the Orfeón Universitario Simón Bolívar and the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. She has served on the Executive Committee of the International Music Council of UNESCO, and as vice president for Latin America and first vice president in the International Federation for Choral Music.
The list of Distinguished Concerts Singer International included an extensive list of international music powerhouses: Amazonia Vocal Ensemble (FL), Anaida Carquez-Solet, director – Bendigo Youth Choir (Australia) Valerie Broad OAM and Gail Godber, director – Benton Middle School Choirs (VA), Kimberley Blair, director – Century Singers (ID), Joyce Brien, director – The Mississippi Girlchoir (MS) Kristy Brumfield, director – Ponca City High School Chorale (OK), Chad W. Keilman, director – Presentation of Mary Academy Children’s Choir (NH). Maria Leticia Gonzalez Lozada, director – Purwa Caraka Music Studio Children Choir (Indonesia) Jessica Fedora Amadea, director –St. Bonaventure Children’s Chorale (FL), Ysomar Echazabal Granados, Director – Traughber Junior High Choral Ensemble (IL), Kimberly Moorman, director.
In the sidebar, PMA mom Leslie Grande gave us permission to reprint a letter she wrote to the PMA sisters about the trip and the adventure. Her writing is moving and provides a picture to remember.
Presentation of Mary Children’s Choir is blessed to have an internationally famous performer and conductor as their director, Maria Leticia Gonzalez Lozada, known as Mrs. Gonzalez at the school, who worked with Principal Sister Maria Rosa to facilitate this amazing excursion for almost a year in both planning and practice time to prepare the students. Mrs. Gonzalez is from Venezuela, where she studied and conducted under the watchful eyes of both Alberto Grau and Maria Guinard. In Caracas, she directed Cantoria, which is a choir of female voices.
Mrs. Gonzalez came with her family to the United States three years ago, as the quality of life was getting worse in Venezuela. After interviewing with several schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, she came to Presentation and knew she has found the right place to teach. PMA has two choirs with the senior one having 60 singers and the junior group 33. Students had to audition for the Carnegie trip, and parents had to understand the commitment that it was going to take to perform in the symphony production, which included practice for four hours every Saturday morning starting in January.
The singers met with the composer and conductor with whom they rehearsed for several days without the orchestra, and this is when soloists and other key performers were chosen. Sister Maria had mentioned that that many of the PMA students had been selected to have the key roles, and Anthony Grande, a soon-to-be fourth grader, had seven parts at the microphone. When asked about Anthony having so many key parts, Mrs. Gonzalez says that the maestro heard him early in the practices and chose him as his pronunciation was very good and in perfect Spanish. She smiled and she mentioned how hard this 9 year old had worked.
When asked about Grande’s future, where does he go from here? She mentioned he is too young to know yet, but “he has everything, his instrument is there.” As he matures, she would project that he will be a tenor because of “the light in his voice.” As sister put it, sometimes Anthony would just get back to his place in the choir and he would have to turn immediately around and go back to the mike. Other PMA students also shined at Carnegie as both narrators were students Ryan Ludwig and Santiago Annunziato and many were the dancers
When Mrs. Gonzalez was asked what she wanted the students to remember from this opportunity and their musical experience at PMA, “Not to remember me, but to know they’re different because of music.”
Editor’s Note: This PMA mom who made the trip to New York expresses so beautifully what an amazing experience it was to watch her son and other PMA students perform at Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago. We felt her words perfectly captured for our readers the excitement and thrill of this once-in-a lifetime event that changed the lives of those who participated.
I am the proud mom of Anthony and Dominick Grande, fraternal twin boys who will be entering fourth grade next year. Anthony has been in choir for 1.5 years now, recruited by none other than our fierce leader, Sister Maria Rosa, under the supreme guidance of Mrs. Gonzalez. Dominick was the proud brother this past weekend. Our family of four was fortunate to be able to participate in the Distinguished Concerts International New York experience.
My husband Joe and I were thrilled to hear the news that the PMA choir had auditioned for and been accepted to sing at Carnegie Hall. We had no idea what an amazing experience this would be. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” the saying goes. The kids started practicing Saturdays in January. Normally, the practices were 3 hours, but as the performance got closer, some practices were extended to a five-hour commitment. Mrs. Gonzalez worked tirelessly to teach the children complicated lyrics, unfamiliar Spanish pronunciation and intricate rhythmic movements. It was surprising to me, as an outsider, to understand how our PMA choir could be performing with other choirs they’d never sung with before. Watching it come together was a fascinating process.
The first day of practice started early. We gathered in a very large rehearsal hall at a hotel across the street from Carnegie Hall. It was a very large two-story ballroom. The team of people putting this ensemble together was amazingly efficient. There were six choirs from various places around the world totaling about 100 kids. The ages ranged from our fourth graders up though high school. Kids were put into place and the work began quickly. María Guinand was the Guest Conductor. The song and music were composed by her acclaimed husband, Alberto Grau. Mr. Grau sat thoughtfully as he watched things play out. He contributed here and there helping guide his vision to life. Mrs. Guinand led the process of having the choir sing. Mrs. Gonzalez was her “right-hand man” leading the children with their movements and cued them on the various pieces of the complicated song. Somewhere during this day, some of the children were selected to try out for the “solos,” which were small groups of children, usually 3-5, who would sing the solo parts. Practice ended, and the afternoon was filled with fun.
The next day of practice was intense. After a little free time in the morning, a marathon rehearsal ensued. I felt this round was a bit more serious. There were some stern warnings from Mrs. Guinand to those who did not know the lyrics. The kids were worked hard. There were some decisions on the soloists that left those not chosen sad and rejected. Emotions were high. Those that were chosen as soloists had a brief dinner break and had to return for an additional late rehearsal with the orchestra. I sat with four PMA children during dinner (a fast Subway sandwich run) who were tired and hungry but in great spirits. They sang their hearts out for the next two hours as the orchestra practiced following the cues of a new Conductor and the kids learned to sing this song with new instruments and the intense sound of a full orchestra. They had previously practiced only with a piano. They were at the point of total exhaustion. I have pictures of some children with bags under their eyes and others who needed to sit down on the floor as they couldn’t handle standing any longer. Mrs. Gonzales instructed us to take a cab back to the hotel and go straight to bed; rest was essential. I don’t mean to brag, but it is certainly worth noting that my son, Anthony Grande, PMA 4th grader, was chosen to sing each and every solo part by the Composer. He has the voice of an angel and is the thankful recipient of your prayers!
The next day was the day of the show! Excitement was high, but there was still work to be done. We had a mid-day rehearsal at Carnegie Hall with the orchestra. There were many behind-the-scenes details that delayed the start of the rehearsal, but this was fun! The kids were on stage, and the parents got to watch and take pictures. The acoustics were amazing, and you could literally hear all the hard work pay off. We went back to the hotel for sandwiches and started getting ready. We assembled in the hotel lobby and walked together down to Carnegie Hall. Showtime!
The kids went up to the staging area and the parents went to nervously and excitedly wait for the show to start. We were actually the last part of the show. There was a children’s orchestra that performed at first. Then another choir sang with the orchestra. Then it was our turn. The Composer and Conductor were being introduced as the kids came out and scooted into place. Then the Conductor got into place, and the show started. The children were Amazing! The song was so beautiful, and the kids sang with passion. It was a story of an angry wasp who ultimately died because she kept making the choice to be angry. PMA contributed narrators, actors, and of course the choir. I believe we had five of our children who participated as soloists. When the song ended, the audience leapt to its feet in an enthusiastic ovation. Mrs. Guinand recognized each of the children who did the special parts and invited them to center stage for recognition and applause.
The night was not over. Afterwards, there was a reception/dinner at another hall. In the fog of elation I felt when I left Carnegie Hall; I barely remember walking to dinner. Joe and I were honored to be introduced to Mrs. Guinand and Mr. Grau by Mrs. Gonzalez along with other distinguished members of the group of artists who were part of this event. We sat in groups with other PMA kids and families near the kids from the other choirs who were celebrating with their fellow choir members and directors. It was a joyful event. It felt, to me, like the best New Year’s Party ever; we returned to the hotel around midnight!
Each day had outside memories that included a Broadway show (Aladdin) and an excursion to the Empire State Building. There was wandering around Time Square, a trip to Rockefeller Center and the bus rides to/from NYC. Throughout all of it, the kids were kind to one another and supportive of the efforts of their fellow choir members. There were several parent volunteers, including, but not limited, to Suzanne DeBeer and Kim Flint, who kept it all running smoothly. Of course, without Mrs. Gonzalez and Sister Maria, none of this would have happened.
Sisters, thank you for your prayers and support. The PMA families are truly blessed to be part of this community. Please know that you are contributing to the development of fine students, talented choir members and strong human beings.