What started as educational trip to New York City for Hahnville High School theater and choir students became an angelic experience.“It was a whirlwind,” said Craig Matherne, HHS choir director, of the school’s March 20 educational trip that the school makes every two years. “We did many things, but it was also a big responsibility for us. This was the first time we were asked to sing at a Palm Sunday mass and at a New York church.”
The choir, with nearly 40 students from the school’s Varsity Women’s Choir and Mixed Assemble Choir, asked for and got the opportunity to sing at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest at Fifth Avenue and 90th Street on the Upper East Side of New York City across from Central Park.
The church, dating back to 1865, although its current location resulted from a 1924 move from Midtown overtaken by retailers (Cartier, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman) was sold by the widow of industrialist/philanthropist and remained the historic church’s site. It rests across from Central Park.
Student Conrad Alleman said he was honored to have been a part of such a wonderful experience and to represent his high school.
“New York was amazing. Singing in the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest was such an honor,” Allemand said. “It was a great vocal experience that also taught me the value of extended family. I’m sure that, as a result of the way that the choir depended on each other, as families do, as well as our determination for perfection, our overall performance left a lasting impression on our long distant, neighboring New Yorkers.”
Cheryl Mahler, assistant choir director for HHS and Destrehan High School, said they even did a processional with the congregation for the Palm Sunday mass.
“It was not the traditional church we see here,” said Mahler, comparing its stately elegance and acoustics to the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. “It has two formal choir lofts. It was a very formal church.”
Because of this design, the students did not need a microphone to be heard.
Mahler said they look for churches that accept out-of-state groups performing. This is how the choir was chosen by the Church of the Heavenly Rest based on recordings of the group’s performances and she said many are submitted.
“They worked with a couple of our festival pieces and we did songs that they would do,” Mahler said. “Some of the songs they chose, but it has to fit the mass format. It has to be topically relevant.”
While on the trip, the group also attended plays, including, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” and “Something Rotten” based on Shakespeare’s works.
Also, Matherne said the students attended workshops with a composer who listened to the students and offered pointers on improving their connection with an audience.