Charming Carnegie Hall: The Vocal Chamber Ensemble Sings at Russian Arts Festival

Conducted by Ms. Viktoria Khokhlova, the Chaminade’s Vocal Chamber Ensemble performs in the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall.

IBy Jude Tochukwu Okonkwo ‘17

If a Chaminade student happened to stroll past room 221 on a Friday afternoon, he might have paused and listened to the conspicuous tunes emanating from the room.  The student would not have endured a cacophony but rather enjoy a pleasurable experience, for he would have heard the Vocal Chamber Ensemble rehearse foreign melodies and lyrics before their trip to Carnegie Hall.  What may have astounded him most would not have been the amazing arrangement of various voices or even the professional delivery that accompanied each piece, but rather that the music was delivered in a foreign language.

On Sunday, October 18, the Vocal Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of Ms. Viktoria Khokhlova, traveled into the heart of New York City to perform at one of its most famed musical venues, Carnegie Hall.  After taking a multitude of photographs outside, they trotted excitedly into the building.   The group was then led into one of the numerous practice rooms to rehearse their musical selections one last time.

The first composition, “Kalinka,” (meaning “snowball tree”) is a Russian folk song composed in 1860 by Ivan Larinov.  The song celebrates the beauty of nature and ends with the composer asking for his beloved to return his affection for her.

The second composition, “The Evening Bell,” another Russian song, was written by Ivan Kozlov and Alexander Alyabyev.  The lyrics stem from a verse composed in Russian by the revered St. Thomas More.  They depict a traveler who hears the ringing of the bells of St. Petersburg, which reminds him of his youth and his homeland.

After their final rehearsal, the Vocal Chamber Ensemble processed to the Upper Balcony of the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie.  The Ensemble listened attentively along with the other attendees of the recital as a variety of musicians graced the stage.  Performances ranged from six- year old piano prodigies playing Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” to the most polished seventeen year old bolting out note after note on the violin.  The crowd was entranced by both the operatic bravados to the masterful cello demonstrations that left them begging for more.

Members of the Vocal Chamber Ensemble, dressed in their signature red jackets and black bow ties, assemble for a group shot in front of Carnegie Hall.
Members of the Vocal Chamber Ensemble, dressed in their signature red jackets and black bow ties, assemble for a group shot in front of Carnegie Hall.

Finally, seventeen Ensemble members donned their trademark red jackets and assembled on the stage to close the night.  A wave of applause greeted them before they had even murmured a singular note.

“Carnegie was a mystery, thriller, and experience all at once…The weeks of practice had established my confidence in the ensemble and I knew we were ready,” said William Kuang ’16, a senior member of the Glee Club.

As the music began,  nerves calmed, mouths opened, and the Vocal Chamber saturated the hall with beautiful renditions of Russian folk music.

Upon reaching the last notes of their song, thunderous applause rained down upon the boys who had sung their hearts out on stage.  After the applause subsided, the Vocal Chamber stepped back to make room for all the other talented musicians to reenter to take their final bows and to be recognized for their valiant efforts and hard work.

“I knew we were well prepared….We were able to go out there and do what we enjoy in one of New York’s greatest venues,”said William DeVito ’16.

Thereafter, the coordinators of the event awarded the prizes for the night.  The awards ranged from recognizing the youngest performer to the laurels given to the most skilled instrumentalist.

As the night almost came to a close, the Vocal Chamber earned the award for “Best Ensemble” and received a modest cash prize.  This marked the first distinction that the Ensemble had ever received at Carnegie after seven years of performances.  

Glee Club President Kevin McSorley ’16 commented on the victory, saying, “It was very rewarding to have all the hard work we poured into the performance pay off in such a way.”

As the bus ride departed for Mineola, the Vocal Chamber Ensemble began as they always do: in prayer.  This time, however, the group sang, rejoicing with Chaminade’s Marian anthem “Salve Regina.”  The ensemble rode out dreamingly from the city with joy in their hearts and triumph in their minds as they thanked God with their lips for the gift of that successful evening.