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That time I sang at Carnegie Hall

October 25, 2023 - 00:00
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Dear Readers, this story took place almost exactly 20 years ago, in 2003 when my church choir director, Judith LaFontaine recruited me to take part in this endeavor. I was already singing with the Brazos Valley Chorale at the time, but Judith was very persuasive and convinced me that it wouldn’t be too much more work to sing with this new group. Judith knew the conductor, Kevin Riehle, and they carved out a rehearsal schedule and we set about preparing for the most wellknown venue in all the world.

The sands of time have erased the name of the piece that we performed, but I remember that it was in German, my least favorite language to sing – except Russian. I do recall that it was a long piece, about 20 pages, each containing very hard words for my southern tongue to pronounce correctly. Needless to say, it took a lot of practice to get that music to sound right.

We faithfully practiced at the conductor’s church in The Woodlands weekly for at least six weeks, sometimes with additional rehearsals at Judith’s house. Our little group of 5 singers from Navasota joined with singers from all over south central Texas with a combined total of about 150 voices. The power of the human voice has never ceased to amaze me.

After the practice sessions ended, we had to shift gears to the production part of the performance. I was excited about travelling to New York for the first time and we had time to do some tourist things before getting down to business. We had one last run-through of our music the morning before the performance and then the nerves set in. I think we were all a bit nervous, but it was hard for me to take it all in. Here I am, a regular guy from a small town in Texas about to perform in Carnegie Hall. Judith reassured me that everything would be fine, and I pretended to believe her. All I could think of was to pray that I would have the courage and the ability to do the music justice and sing it correctly and with all my heart.

The backstage of Carnegie Hall is basically a loading area. Very disappointing. There wasn’t even a place to sit down. Very surprising. After a long wait, the stage manager gathered us all up and gave us his instructions for entering the stage. He said that there was a series of stairs with several turns going up to the stage and we were to stay right on the heels of the person in front of us and – most importantly – when you get on stage – keep walking. Do not stop and say, “Oh my God!”

I thought that advice was laughable, I mean I’m a “Pro”. I’ve sung songs in at least a dozen different languages, in lots of different venues. I’ll be fine, I thought to myself. So, the time came for us to start walking up to the stage and I was following directions, mainly because I didn’t want to be stepped on and then I got to the stage. Friends, I had to literally force myself to keep walking. I was star struck. The beauty, the grandeur of the interior of the hall is simply breathtaking. I counted 5 wraparound balconies, fully adorned in gold and burgundy, accented with lights too many to count. Almost Heaven.

After I reached my spot on the stage, I kept thinking that this wasn’t happening. This is too much. I’m not worthy. But then my prayers were answered and the notes, the tones, and the melodies came out just like we practiced it. Thank you, Judith. I’ll never forget that day.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Alan Shoalmire. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant Hotdogs and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.