Choral Society of West Georgia pays special tribute to Ukraine as it returns to historic Carnegie Hall – Reuters

The members of the Choral Society of West Georgia had long expected to one day return to the prestigious Carnegie Concert Hall in New York. When the pandemic hit, this near-annual trip for the company became a distant hope, but circumstances calmed down and the band was ready to buy plane tickets and play again in the footsteps of hundreds of artists. who preceded them.

This trip was a little different from what the Choral Society experienced before the pandemic. Due to the current ongoing war in Ukraine, the performance doubled as a requiem for war victims.

Lauren Collins and Maestro John Rutter before rehearsal.

Under the direction of the famous English composer and conductor John Rutter, the Choral Society performed Rutter’s original piece, “A Ukrainian Prayer”. The Choral Society was among nearly 200 other singers from across the country who took part in the show, said Bettie Biggs, artistic director of the Choral Society of West Georgia. The performance was part of the New England Symphonic Ensemble and was the 664th performance at Carnegie Hall. It was one of the first live shows the concert hall has given since the initial pandemic.

“These are choirs that signed on to do this project two years ago in 2019,” said Biggs, who returned to Carnegie Hall for the second time. “After three years of waiting and not knowing, it finally happened this weekend.”

Rutter wrote “A Ukrainian Prayer” overnight. He posted a piece of the composition on his official Youtube page along with an explanation of how the piece came about.

“How does a composer react to a global tragedy,” he asks in the five-and-a-half-minute video released in March. “I guess by writing music. The first thing I wanted to do was write music that would react in my own way. I hope the meaning of the text will resonate in people’s hearts and reach the people of Ukraine in this difficult hour. »

The performance was Biggs’ first time meeting Rutter, whom she described as humble and passionate. Rutter told him that he had written the play overnight and immediately sought out willing singers to perform it.

The lyrics to “A Ukrainian Prayer” were, of course, in Ukraine, a challenge that many Choral Society singers overcame through several practices. At one point the group received help from world famous opera singer Michael Hendrick who helped them with the phonetics of the language.

On the show’s opening night on May 30, the band was ready.

“The acoustics are so perfect. It’s so impressive,” Biggs said. “The last two movements [of the composition] are so beautiful and serene. I thought, ‘This must be what Heaven looks like.’ It was almost an out of body experience. I walked out and thought, “Oh my God, my legs are shaking.” It’s so overwhelming to have you on this stage where some of the biggest names in music history have performed for over a hundred years. It literally takes your breath away, which is not good for a singer.

For many of the 12 singers who made the trip – a third time for the entire Choral Society – it was both culture shock and a kind of homecoming.

“I felt at home with all the singers,” said Paula Sharp, a longtime member of the Choral Society of West Georgia. “The prayer was incredibly beautiful. Just being in such a big group was amazing. We all had tissues in our pockets in case we started to cry, but they were tears of joy.

Samantha Cotton, a choir teacher at Callaway High School, finally enjoyed her first trip to New York and even made it back to LaGrange in time to see some of her graduating students. Cotton was originally nervous when she read the sheet music for Rutter’s “A Ukrainian Prayer”. But soon she adapted to the language and sang confidently with her band.

“It was surreal,” Cotton said. “Here we work with a composer who created music that I sang at school and that my students did too. It was phenomenal…and Carnegie Hall is the coolest place I’ve been to.

The West Georgia Choral Society will perform “A Ukrainian Prayer” at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church this Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

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