Wilbur Cross Singers Light Up The Green
by Allan Appel | Dec 5, 2013 9:24 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Music, Schools
)They assembled on stage in their street clothes. One wore a Santa cap, another a set of red antlers.
Then the 60 singers of the Wilbur Cross High School Chorus harmonized like full-dress angels, reflecting months of intensive rehearsal.
They were the first musical group performing on the central stage as part of the whirlwind of activities that culminated at sunset on Thursday in the annual municipal holiday tree-lighting ceremony on the Green.
Among the other activities featured were the perennial mechanical animal rides, reindeer impersonators, a little carousel, the Santa House, and trips in an old old-fashioned carriage pulled by Joe and his equine pals from Allegra Farms in North Haven.
But none of those creatures of them could sing. And the sound of holiday music is arguably the heart of the holiday.
Which is where Cross’s chorus came in.
As they prepared to go on to perform a 15-minute program that began with the traditional African carol, “African Noel,” two seniors—alto Naomi Hedge and tenor Antione Connor—gave some perspective on what goes into performing what turned out to be the first time in front of a large outdoor Christmas crowd, and doing it a capella.
A capella (or “without musical accompaniment,” even from a piano) makes performance more difficult, the students agreed, because the piano can’t cover for the singers or give them the pitch or help signal entrances and exits. It’s all up to those 16 and 17-year old voices and how well they’ve paid attention in practice.
They were up for the challenge.
Naomi said she loves Christmas music. Antione said, “It makes me feel like a kid again.”
“We must have concert etiquette, how you’d act in front of your parents,” their teacher and choral director, Danielle Storey-Carson told them, according to Naomi.
That meant that the chorus, 60-strong (50 of them girls), must stand with their feet shoulder length apart and knees slightly bent. They had to remember to breathe through the nose and, as Naomi put, “sing off the air in your diaphragm.”
Choral practice for the five-song program has been the centerpiece of a regime of four-times-a-week practice, including one 90-minute session. The rehearsals have taken place in in the Cross chorus room since September, the students reported.
They’d committed the songs to memory, of course, but there were still concerns about what singers call “hitting their points,” especially entrances and exits of parts.
“Ms. Storey made sure we have everything on point,” said Naomi
“And that we know our pitches,” Antione added.
“We perfect our songs before we perform,” she said.
Still, in the midst of quiet confidence Naomi, who hopes to study music next year at the University of Connecticut, said the hardest part is managing the different harmonies in “African Noel.”
“There is a part where the altos [like her] split into two groups and then they need to blend with the sopranos in three-part harmony.”
Their teacher agreed.
As she walked the kids through how to enter and leave the stage, Storey-Carson said, “A lot come to me, they don’t know how to harmonize. A lot sing solo but have not been in ensembles. You have to listen to people on the left, to the right, to blend, and not out-sing another group. Blending is the key.”
As parents and admiring siblings gathered round to take photographs, the chorus assumed the stage. The performance (click on the video above to watch) turned out lively and crisp. The sound was large but not overbearing, the words distinct.The harmony was in good shape too.
Storey-Carson gave her students good grades for singing. Her big note to them when they come to class tomorrow: “They need to work on their stage presence.”
There was too much moving around and being finicky, and they didn’t smile enough, she added.
Naomi Hedge agreed. She gave the chorus performance of the music a B+, maybe even an A-. “There wasn’t enough room. The mikes were too far away. The harmonies went well,” she concluded.
“It’s good practice for the winter concert,” Storey added.
That will take place next Wednesday. The kids will wear robes over the clothes. And there will be a piano.