This past weekend I experienced something that I'll remember for the rest of my life. In my last post I told you how for my Winter Term project I had the incredible opportunity to prepare for a performance with my choir, Musical Union, along with the College Choir, Gospel Choir, and Oberlin Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City. This has been something I've been looking forward to since the beginning of the school year, and it's hard to believe it's already come and gone. I had never been to NYC before, so I was super excited to see it for the first time and experience it in such an awesome way. The College and Conservatory were also generous enough to provide the trip for us students with all expenses paid and even a per diem for food, making the opportunity truly invaluable and once in a lifetime. I'm more than happy to relive the experience as I recount it and share it with you all!
First, in the days leading up to our trips, the various ensembles performing in New York put on preview concerts for the Oberlin community. Our concert in Finney Chapel was a great success, and it was when the excitement for our Carnegie performance really began to hit me full force. I was also super excited to get to watch the Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble at the ‘Sco, one of our music venues on campus, before they headed off to perform at various high schools and Dizzy’s Jazz Club in NYC, especially because their NYC performance was going to be while my group was traveling and we would miss it. They did not disappoint, showcasing their incredible musicianship with some groovy tunes, and it was a perfect precursor to build the hype of the trip!
On Thursday bright and early at 7 AM, we gathered in Finney with our luggage, checked in, enjoyed our boxed breakfast, then piled onto our assigned buses and headed off at 8 AM. The buses were quite nice, with plenty of room for our luggage, a wifi hotspot, and outlets to keep our devices supplied with much-needed entertainment for our 10-hour trip. We made a couple of stops in Pennsylvania but kept steady on the road so we could make it to NYC by the evening. I enjoyed the scenery of the mountains as we entered Appalachia, even though my ears were popping from the altitude.
At around 6:30 PM, we finally arrived in NYC! I got so excited when I saw the city skyline outside the window. We passed through the Lincoln Tunnel and by Times Square, and then arrived at our hotel in Midtown. My roommate Grace and I were given a room on the 27th floor, and I marveled at the buildings and our height off of the ground as I peered outside our window.
Hungry from our long trip, many of us students ventured out into the city to find dinner. While walking around the city, I was often looking up as I drank in the bright lights and tall buildings. NYC reminded me of my hometown of Chicago in terms of the bustle, but the only way I can describe the difference is that New York is so much more, and much more flashy. My roommate Grace knew of a ramen place called Ippudo, and so we went out to find it, but once we got there, we found other students who had the same idea, and they told us that it was packed with an hour wait. We forewent that restaurant and found a small ramen place on the other side of the block called Toribro. When we walked in, we were greeted by an amazing smell, causing my stomach to grumble. We sat down at the counter and were soon given our orders of ramen, which I gulped down until my bowl was clean. I was incredibly pleased by my first taste of New York food!
We went back to our hotel room sleepy from our food, the long drive, and the incessant rain. We enjoyed sleeping in the next day, and then when we woke up, we went out in search of brunch. We found a restaurant called Junior’s, which is apparently well known for its cheesecake. I ordered some potato pancakes while Grace ordered some cheese blintzes. We shared some of our food so we could each get a taste, and while I loved my potato pancakes, the cheese blintzes were to die for, with a perfectly flaky pastry and a sweet strawberry sauce on the side. We had quite a bit left over, which we saved for breakfast another day.
Junior's was right near Times Square, so we went over and walked around. I marveled at all the ads for Broadway shows, people dressed up as characters trying to get you to take a picture with them, and luxurious shops that I had only seen in pictures and movies. What made me really feel like I was in New York was all the pigeons! We went inside the giant M&M’s store, having fun looking at all the cute clothing and items along with the many different delicious M&M flavors. We also stopped in the Disney store, petting the cute plushies of various characters. I’m a sucker for plushies, and there was a super cute Dumbo one, but it was way too expensive! That’s one downside of New York. When we got further down Times Square, I was super excited to see the New Year’s ball glittering way up high. Even though now it’s up year-round, it felt really special to see it in January. We also passed Radio City Music Hall, which was really exciting to see. It was then nearing time for our dress rehearsal, so we headed back to our hotel to get ready before going off to Carnegie Hall.
When we walked to Carnegie, we made sure to find the poster for our performance to take some pictures by it. It was so crazy to see a poster for us, for Oberlin, at a famous music hall! It made me extremely proud of us. We then headed in through the stage door and up to our backstage room so we could start our dress rehearsal. The room featured artistic posters of various famous musicians who have performed at the hall in the past, and it was hard to believe we were now in the same category!
When we walked on stage for our dress rehearsal, it was so surreal taking in the domed ceiling, beautiful gold walls, and rows of seats reaching up to the ceiling. When we started "The Ordering of Moses," I nearly got emotional at hearing how beautiful the sound blended together and rung in the acoustics of the hall. I was especially moved when we got to my favorite part of the song, the Go Down, Moses fugue. I always loved performing it in Finney Chapel, but hearing it in Carnegie Hall was such a different experience. A lot of us singers and instrumentalists wished we could be in two places at once and also get to hear the concert from the audience, where it likely sounded incredible.
After our dress rehearsal, we went backstage and enjoyed a boxed dinner before putting the finishing touches on our singing and outfits. Before we knew it, it was call time, and we watched the orchestra perform on the TV in our room before lining up to get on stage. Our backstage room was on the sixth floor, and our group of over 100 singers filled up all of the flights of stairs down to the entrance of the stage. I was buzzing with excitement and a bit of nerves as we finally walked onto the risers and took in the almost completely full house. I found my parents and great aunt in the audience and waved hi to them before the intermission ended and it was time to perform.
The performance went better than I could have ever imagined. It was truly magical. Every one of us gave it our all, and our hard work paid off in the acoustics of the hall to create a brilliant sound. The audience of loving and supporting Oberlin friends and family gave us an extremely warm standing ovation. I couldn't help beaming during the applause. I was so happy to get to share R. Nathaniel Dett's music with such a wide audience since his work is so underrated, and the audience's reception proved how incredible a composer he was. It was such an honor to represent Oberlin in such a way.
When the buses went back to Oberlin on Saturday, I opted to stay in New York with my parents so we could go visit my great aunt and uncle who live in Long Island. From our hotel there, I could see a clear view of the city skyline with the Empire State building glowing in blue and orange. I was really grateful to be in New York because I got to see some family members I rarely see at all due to the distance from my home of Chicago. My great aunt, who came to the concert, was incredibly impressed by the orchestra and choirs. She especially liked the orchestra's performance of Ivan E. Rodriguez's "A Metaphor for Power," which I love listening to, too. My parents were really impressed by the tenor soloist, Limmie Pulliam, who's been getting media attention from NPR and The New York Times thanks to his incredible performance. I had a really nice time with my family before we had to head back home. I was a bit sad that we didn't have more time to spend in NY, but I was grateful for the time we did have and the amazing experience.
When I first came to Oberlin, I never expected I would be doing something like this. I love performing with Musical Union even just at Finney Chapel, but to get this opportunity to perform on such a stage was truly life-changing. I might never get to experience something like this again once I leave Oberlin since I'm just an Arts and Sciences student and being a musician is not my career path, but the prestige of the Conservatory allowed me to bring my passion for singing to the next level, which I am extremely grateful for. I hope we can go on tour again sometime soon, but regardless I will cherish this memory for the rest of my life.
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