Dozens of Iowa singers got the thrill of a lifetime Monday night, March 13, by performing at perhaps the world’s most famous stage, Carnegie Hall, in New York City.
Part of a mass choir of 260 singers, the group included Keith Haan of Davenport and Mark Meyer of Eldridge, who are members of the Cedar Rapids-based Chorale Midwest, under the direction of Bradley Barrett.
“It was wonderful,” Meyer said Tuesday of his first-ever visit to Carnegie Hall. “It’s a huge auditorium and the acoustics are fantastic. It was so inspirational, you got goosebumps.”
The Monday concert (in which the 70-member Chorale Midwest performed two pieces on its own, and its Chamber Singers did two others) was all the more special, since the 260-person choir performed Iowa composer Elaine Hagenberg’s “Illuminare.”
In addition to the Cedar Rapids choir, the collection of singers was comprised of the Des Moines Choral Society, Iowa State Singers, University of Kentucky Chorale and Cherry Creek Chorale from Colorado. They were conducted at Carnegie by James Rodde, who’s director of choral activities at Iowa State University in Ames.
Des Moines resident Elaine Hagenberg graduated from Drake University in Des Moines in 2002, with a degree in music education. She’s been a composer-in-residence for the Des Moines Choral Society under the direction of Rodde. She’s also sung with this choir for a number of years.
With over 50 commissioned works, she has composed new music for the American Choral Directors Association, professional choirs, colleges and universities, community choirs, high schools, and churches. “I Am the Wind” was named the winner of the 2020 ACDA Brock Competition for Professional Composers, and the 24-minute “Illuminare” is her first extended work, consisting of five movements for SATB chorus and chamber orchestra.
Using lesser-known sacred Latin, Greek, and English texts, the piece takes us through a season of beauty and goodness that has been disrupted by darkness and confusion. But as light gradually returns, hope is restored, illuminating our future, according to a summary of the work.
“It was so emotional, so uplifting,” Mark Meyer of Chorale Midwest said. “It’s about death and depth, ending with light and hope and peace.” His choir first performed “Illuminare” last fall, he said.
The full choir at Carnegie Hall arrived in New York March 10, and had about eight hours of rehearsals over a few days before the concert, Meyer said. That included Monday in the prestigious hall, working directly with the composer about four hours altogether.
“She’s an absolute sweetheart,” Meyer said. “She’s a total choral nerd.”
The concert was accompanied by the New York City Chamber Orchestra. “They’re a small orchestra, but they were amazing,” he said. “They were absolutely amazing.”
Christina Farrell of Cedar Rapids posted Monday about the special event on Facebook that in 1981, an aunt came to her first piano recital “and gave me a $2 bill with a note saying I could spend it when I made my Carnegie Hall debut. That note has been in my piano ever since. Well, I finally get to spend my $2!” she wrote.
Keith Haan is a retired St. Ambrose University music professor, choir director and current voice teacher. He’s the choir director at Zion Lutheran Church, Davenport (full disclosure: I am their piano accompanist) and he also was impressed by working with Hagenberg.
“She collaborated very closely with the choir. Her insights into the music, I thought we were just incredibly moving to listen to her — her excitement, intensity, and how close the thing is to her,” Haan said Tuesday. “It was almost like one of her children,” he said, noting she had two of her actual kids perform in the large choir at Carnegie Hall.
“I just thought it was amazing, just a highlight of my life,” Haan said of singing at the world-famous venue. “I liked the work a lot to listen to, and listen to her explain how she chose the texts and it all has to do with peace in the world and love.”
This wasn’t Haan’s first time singing in a choir at Carnegie Hall. That was in March 2013, with Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” under the direction of Laura Lane, director of choirs at Knox College, Galesburg.
“That was really kind of exciting,” he said. Haan had never been in the audience for a concert there before.
“I’ve always had great respect for it,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I think it’s a nice hall for singing.”
The March 25, 2013 concert at Carnegie featured members of the Knox College Choir, Monmouth College Chorale, Galesburg Community Chorus, and Nova Singers, along with several Knox alumni and students from St. Ambrose.