South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?


Mark Hays

It's been said thousands, if not millions, of times. To get to New York City's Carnegie Hall, you must "practice, practice, practice." For the Harmony Singers of Pittsburgh, it took 42 years of practice — and a large measure of serendipity.

The choral group, based in the South Hills, will perform in the hallowed hall of music on June 1, along with six other choral groups. The seven groups, with a total of approximately 200 voices, will be accompanied by The New England Symphonic Ensemble, under the direction of conductor/composer Mark Hayes, of Kansas City, MO.

For most of their 42 years, the local organization has been producing an annual show and singing in local venues. But, late last year, serendipity stepped in and took a starring role, launching the singers on their path to New York City and Carnegie Hall.

Cynthia Pratt, director of the group for the past five years, was attending a choir clinic conducted by Mr. Hayes, when he mentioned that he had made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut the previous year, directing a 200-voice choir and the New England Symphonic Ensemble and would do it again this year.

When he asked for volunteers, Ms. Pratt jumped at the chance and, several weeks later, Mr. Hayes' production group notified Ms. Pratt that the Harmony Singers had been chosen to make their own Carnegie Hall debut, along with two choirs from Kansas, two from Virginia, and others from Ohio and Tennessee.

It will be a whirlwind tour for the local singers. They will leave Pittsburgh on Thursday, May 29 and have rehearsals the next two days before an early-morning dress rehearsal on Sunday, June 1, and the concert that afternoon. On the program will be three pieces written by Mr. Hayes, including the world premiere performance of his "Spirit Suite II", based on three African-American spirituals. The others will be "Te Deum", which he premiered at last year's concert, and "Magnificat", also on last year's program.

According to his official biography, Mr. Hayes' "vocal and instrumental writing is widely acclaimed and performed across the nation. He is also well-known for his unique choral settings, which draw from such diverse styles as gospel, jazz, pop, folk and classical to achieve a truly ‘American sound.' "

He is a recurring recipient of the Standard Award from the American Society of Composers and Performer. His album, "I've Just Seen Jesus," received the Dove Award, the gospel music equivalent of a Grammy.

Carnegie Hall opened in May, 1891, with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Walter Damrosh leading the New York Symphony and Oratorio Society. Since then — from Winston Churchill to Edward Elgar, from Mark Twain to Pablo Casals, from Sergei Rachmaninoff to Enrico Caruso — the hall has been the pinnacle of music and of the lecture circuit in the United States.

For the Harmony Singers, it is a pinnacle that has taken 42 years to climb. And the view from the top, Ms. Pratt says, "will be as breathtaking and stimulating as it is humbling and gratifying to know that we are on the same stage as those world-famous personalities."


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