A sound experience for Park City High School tenor at Carnegie Hall
February 17, 2012
There’s nothing like performing to a sold-out crowd in New York’s famed Carnegie Hall.
It’s even better when the audience gives a rousing standing ovation.
Park City High School junior Brett Armstrong knows this, because last Sunday, Feb. 12, he was at Carnegie Hall with nearly 200 teenagers singing in the American High School Honor’s Choir.
The choir, which showcases some of the most talented student performers in high school, consisted of young singers from 49 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Tibet.
Armstrong was one of eight first tenors, and although the choir performance lasted only 45 minutes, it was a thrill of a lifetime, he said.
"It was surreal," Armstrong said. "That’s the only way I can describe it. It was so much fun and such an amazing experience."
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The choir performed an array of works ranging from traditional classical pieces such as Haydn’s "Achieved Is the Glorious Work" and Rachmaninoff’s "Rejoice, O Virgin," to the traditional Indian raga lullaby "Desh," arranged Ethan Sperry, to the contemporary, gospel-inspired "I Can Feel the Spirit," which was written by one of the choir’s conductors Dr. Jeffrey L. Ames.
"Dr. Ames is world-renowned composer and has written several pieces," Armstrong said. "When we sang his work, it was great because he was able to conduct us the way he intended when he wrote the work."
Armstrong heard about the American High School Honors Choir in October from a family friend, who encouraged the singer to send in an audition tape.
"She said if they liked the tape, I would be singing in Carnegie Hall in New York in February," he said.
To prepare, the singer went to the Utah Conservatory and worked with voice teacher Debra Cook and made a recording.
"I was told to not get my hopes up because it is so difficult to get into the choir, but if did make it, it will be an awesome experience," Armstrong said. "We sent the tape to them and in early December we received the invitation letter that said, ‘We would love to have you’ come to New York Feb. 10 through 13.’"
At first, Armstrong felt numb.
"I didn’t really know what it meant, because I wasn’t expecting to get in," he said with a laugh. "I actually didn’t start getting excited about it until two weeks before me and my parents took off. That was when it started meaning more to me than just a chance to miss school and go to New York."
To prepare, Armstrong worked with Cook and PCHS choir director Ryan North.
"We went over the pieces and he was probably the biggest help because I knew what notes I needed to hit and that was important because the choir director in New York didn’t have time to work with a group of tenors, let alone individually with 200 students," he said.
Once the Armstrongs landed at JFK airport, there was no time to rest.
"I had six hours of vocal rehearsals every day," he said. "It was tough, and I’m a first tenor, which means my voice is high. So, I was singing for six hours of trying to belt out those high notes. It was crazy."
During the rehearsals, Armstrong’s parents, Beth and Roger, became tourists and took in the sights of the Big Apple.
"We stayed at the New York Sheraton, but rehearsed in the Park Central Hotel, which was just right across the street from Carnegie Hall," the singer said. "I still couldn’t believe we were in New York."
The thing that struck Armstrong the most was learning about Carnegie Hall’s acoustics.
"The director of the program told all of us if we had guests coming to make sure they didn’t talk or whisper," he said. "She showed us why when she went to the back wall at the very top row of the hall, which is about 125 yards from the back of the stage and heard one of her staff members drop a sewing needle."
If that wasn’t enough, Armstrong was "blown away" when he sang with the choir on stage.
"I’ve always sang with small choirs with and before I attended Park City High School, so singing with 200 people was awe-inspiring," he said. "I’ve never sung with a professional sounding choir such as that."
Then came the standing ovation.
"I thought the acoustics were good singing to the audience, but the acoustic was better with the applause," Armstrong said with another laugh. "Tickets were $120 a seat and there was not an empty seat in the hall."
In addition to the rush of singing at Carnegie Hall, the tenor, along with the other singers, was given some good advice regarding their voices.
"The director told us that our voice was our instrument, which meant we don’t have to carry things like trumpets or clarinets around," Armstrong said. "With that, comes a responsibility, because unlike those instrument players, we can use our voices anytime we want, so we have to protect them.
"It’s not like we can replace our voices like when others break or wear out their instruments," he said. "We have fragile vocal chords that we need to take care of."
Armstrong, who cited Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Frank Sinatra and Il Divo as his singers of choice, was inspired to perform by his father.
"Dad was in a choir that traveled around the world and he has sung to me since I was a baby," he said. "My sister is a professional stage actress in Los Angeles, and I grew up with all that in the house."
Although Armstrong loves to sing and will audition for the Honors Choir next year, he doesn’t want to pursue music as a career.
"I want to go into medicine and I would like to go to the Air Force Academy to be a combat rescue officer," he said. "It’s difficult enough to have one child in show business, so I think that will be best."