By LUCIA (WAN’TING) ZHOU
Decorations above the legendary Perelman stage of Carnegie Hall were very delicate. I looked up at them, and wondered how it must feel to be up there and look down, seeing musical legends unfolding right in front of them: the 100 concerts era-defining composer Rachmaninoff in 1901, Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling debut as a substitute conductor at the Carnegie Hall in 1943, or Horowitz’s sold-out recital of 1965.
Yet there I was, sharing the stage that had hosted the renowned musicians I grew up admiring. On the evening of March 11, I was standing on the Perelman stage of the enchanted Carnegie Hall. My heart was beating against my chest; excitement colliding with expectations. With my fellow Fordham University Choir members, I was about to perform “The St. Cecilia Mass” by Charles Gounod, as part of Masterwork Festival Chorus organized by Manhattan Concert Productions.
For any musician, performing at Carnegie Hall is momentous. Legend has it that one day, the prestigious pianist Arthur Rubinstein was walking down 57th Street when a tourist asked him, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Rubinstein, who had performed successfully at the Carnegie, said “Practice, practice, practice.” The experience of getting ready for this life-changing performance was indeed a lot of practice. But for me, it was practicing for things much greater than musical technicalities.
It is my first year singing at the Fordham University Choir, and I have been learning a lot about team spirit. At my first rehearsal, I was immediately impressed by the cohesion and talent of the team. Elder members of the choir have been very helpful and welcoming to new members, and I have learned not only how to sing in a choir, but how to behave as a committed member of a community. Chamber singing is a group activity—I still distinctly remember the time when Director Robert Minotti told me that I was singing way too loud. From then on, I listened to my peers more carefully. This awareness of teamwork continues to inspire me and reminds me to constantly look out for the team as a whole, instead of just myself.
Preparing for this performance, I was also tasked with practicing both professionalism and perfectionism. Part of of our responsibility as chamber singers, we rehearse for two hours every Thursday. In addition to the routine practice, we also participated in three additional practices in the week leading up to our Carnegie performance. Some rehearsals happened to coincide with mid-term examinations, and it was important to do well in both of them. Through the rigorous preparation, I understood the importance of balancing different aspects of my life. When I hear our voice beautifully blended together, moving as one though a piece in an expressive way, I always feel that it is worth it.
I wonder how Arthur Rubinstein would feel about the practice I went through preceding my Carnegie experience. Having been a professional musician at some remote points in my life, I guess Rubinstein meant a practice of musical technicality when he pointed to “practice” as the way to Carnegie-level of musical mastery. Practices I had with my fellow friends were not exclusively on musical technicality. However, this meaningful experience taught me about teamwork, professionalism and balancing multiple areas of my life.
More importantly, it is a moving experience to achieve something great as part of a fantastic team. Standing on the stage with my fellow members of the choir, I had never felt so proud and happy. I realized my memories about performing at the venue would not be about making myself a musical legend, but about how my friends and I grew together pursuing our love for music: Lydia Culp, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19, and Fiona Whalen, FCLC ’19, taught me about the pronunciation of ‘weary’ when I performed for the first time with the ensemble at the University Mass. Katie Ott, FCLC ’17, helped me tailor my concert black dress days before her LSAT exam. Kyle Kilkenny, FCLC ’19, scored big in the team-building competition on behalf of my group, so that we were the first to get sandwiches on my first day of choir. Lauren Frazier, FCLC ’19, kept an account to celebrate each precious moment we have as a team. Mike Figueroa, FCLC ’17, handed me the forms for auditioning for choir and wished me good luck before I went in Franny’s Space, and many more that I still need to mention. I realized that, in pursuing music, I have never been alone. It is precisely because of these wonderful people that the Carnegie experience has become so meaningful and valid.
I brought my thoughts back and once again focused on the conductor. There it was, the moment before all the magic happens. I felt the gaze of the audience, the excitement of my fellow choir members and the presence of Carnegie Hall. I took another breath and sang the first notes on cue—there it began, one of the most beautiful 40 minutes of my life.
We performed with energy, love and passion, presenting the fruits of all our practices. Some moments are so special that you know, almost immediately, that you’ll never forget how you felt. Performing at Carnegie Hall is absolutely one of these moments. Even though the performance passed by quickly on stage, it was dreamy and memorable. It was special because it manifested how much we grew, learned and achieved through our hard work as a team with the guidance of our wonderful Director Robert Minotti. I truly feel glad that I was able to experience it as a member of my beloved Fordham University choir.