By Sam McDonald

An Old Dominion University choral group recently accomplished something that most people only do in dreams — singing at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City.

More than 60 members of the ODU Concert Choir traveled by bus to New York where they performed in the famous concert hall on March 17.  They sang as part of an event billed as the New England Symphonic Ensemble with participating choruses.

“It’s something you hear about all your life, but being on stage there is incredible,” said Oliver Sealey, a music education major in his senior year at ODU. “The hall is beautiful, gorgeous.”

 He said the choir rose to the occasion and performed better than ever.

“I was super proud of the students and everyone who pulled together to make this happen,” said Cristina Loyola, an adjunct faculty member who made many of the arrangements for the trip and sang with the choir. She was surprised by the historic venue’s acoustics. “It was clear as a bell,” she said. “That’s crazy to me.”

Nancy Klein, director of ODU’s Diehn School of Music, directs a combined ensemble of singers and orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York City, March 17, 2024. Photo credit: Michael Violago Photography

Nancy Klein, director of ODU’s F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music, conducted the ensemble’s Carnegie performance of “Gloria” by composer Francis Poulenc. It was her fourth time conducting at the hall.

ODU’s singers were joined on stage by choirs from Regent University in Virginia Beach and University of Texas at El Paso as well as a full orchestra.

“It’s a miraculous thing,” Klein said. “We had 70 instrumentalists, 142 choristers. There were over 200 musicians on that stage. Everyone was doing something individual, with it all coming together to create this incredible piece of music.

“How does it happen?” she wondered aloud. “It’s just phenomenal.”

The composer of the music deserves credit, she said. “But part of it was due to the power, energy and excitement that the students feel when they perform it.”

After Klein conducted “Gloria,” Elisa Fraser Wilson from UTEP stepped to the front to conduct the whole ensemble for Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna.”

Despite the challenges any hybrid ensemble faces, Klein heard few musical problems during the performance. The massed musicians created what she described as a powerful, sumptuous sound.

“And it was a receptive audience,” said Emily Ondracek-Peterson, executive director of the Diehn School. “They seemed to enjoy all the pieces. Our vocalists sounded amazing. It was great that they got to work with other choirs and other conductors and a professional orchestra.”

Thanks to her extensive experience as performer in New York and beyond, Ondracek-Peterson was invited to play violin with the orchestra at the concert.

While the concert itself was a success, the group faced some struggles leading up to curtain time.

An 8:30 a.m. pre-concert rehearsal was rough, Klein said, with the ODU singers sounding unfocused. At another run-through that afternoon, the vocalists had trouble hearing themselves and struggled to finetune their tones.

“But in the concert, boy, they sounded fabulous,” Klein said. “This was a really important experience for them.” By adjusting to a new conductor and singing with unfamiliar orchestra musicians, students got valuable, real-world experiences.

“They had to adapt to the differences and did that very well,” Klein said. “They were energized. They were learning not just the music, but so many musicianship skills … It was huge encouragement for them.”

New York’s bounty of extracurricular activities made the multi-day trip memorable, too.

Pictured during a post-concert river cruise are, left to right, Sandra Ross, mother of ODU vocal performance major Alijah Djanphie; Djanphie, a sophomore from Woodbridge, Virginia; and Nancy Klein, director of ODU’s Diehn School of Music. Photo credit: ODU’s College of Arts and Letters

“Students had all kinds of fun,” Klein said. “They went to the opera, or to see [the musical] ‘Moulin Rouge!’ and you could be entertained just by walking around,” she said.

The ODU group stayed in a midtown hotel near frenetic Times Square.

After the concert, the group took a celebratory river cruise.

“I think my favorite memory [of the trip] was the Spirit of New York cruise on the Hudson River and seeing the Statue of Liberty near sunset,” said choir member and ODU police officer Scott Evans. “I had never seen the Statue of Liberty, and it was something that I will never forget.”

Participants said they’ll treasure memories from their intense, immersive New York adventure.

“It was really cool,” said Sealey, who sings bass with the choir.

His parents traveled to New York to witness their son’s big moment on stage at Carnegie Hall.

“I saw them after the performance,” Sealey said. “I think my mom had been crying.

“It was really cute.”