Lexington High School honors chorus director Jason Iannuzzi is pretty sure that his students have heard what many refer to as “The Joke.” You know the one: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” But even if they haven’t, they clearly know a lot about the response line: “Practice, practice, practice.”
Practice, after all, has consumed much of the approximately 90-member strong chorus since they were invited to appear, under Iannuzzi’s conducting talents, at the world-renowned musical landmark in New York City on April 23rd.
This won’t be Iannuzzi’s first trip to Carnegie Hall’s podium. “In 2019, we were invited to participate in a concert under Dr. Peggy Detweiler, who is the director of Choral Activities at Mansfield University.” He said it was a very special opportunity, not only due to the setting but also thanks to the program, which showcased pieces composed by women.
“There’s nothing like performing in Carnegie Hall,” he practically coos in remembrance. “It’s a truly wonderful space. You walk in and you literally feel the vibrations of music past. It’s quite stunning. I’m very excited for these students to have this opportunity this time around.”
This invitation is a bit different than the one in 2019 however. “It’s a special concert for the 40th anniversary season, with MidAmerica Productions, one of the biggest producers at Carnegie Hall. They invite conductors from around the country to put together choirs, and they provide a fully professional orchestra and soloists,” to complement the program.
It’s also an unusual opportunity for the Lexington teacher to collaborate with a former classmate, Anthony Sears, currently choral director at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. “He and I were both at Westminster Choir College together [when] he was a graduate student and I was an undergraduate. So, it’s kind of cool, kind of neat to have a reunion. We’re very excited indeed to be putting the program together and splitting the conducting duties.”
The chorus will perform two pieces that they are well acquainted with — Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade To Music” and Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances From Prince Igor” — and expect to take center stage for a little less than half an hour (“basically your time on stage for MidAmerica is directly proportional to the number of singers that you bring.”) “Under normal circumstances, I’d be pretty nervous,” Iannuzzi confesses, but Sears was willing to adopt Lexington’s existing repertoire. “He had almost the same notes [and breathing cues], because we have the same training, which is really fantastic.” Turning two choruses into one collective voice was much easier than it might have been otherwise.
The students may still find the venue challenging. “It’s a bit of a task for young voices to get out over the orchestra of the “Big Hall,” Iannuzzi says knowingly. Yet he has little doubt that his group will prevail. “The kids here are really capable and they like that challenge….The students expect that from themselves. The teachers expect it, the community expects it. It’s pressure, but it’s pressure in a very positive way because we all want to do something that’s meaningful and moving to our audiences.”
One chorus member, Ezra Rudenko, self-described as musically “obsessed,” seems undaunted by the challenge. The storied hall is “definitely a bucket list item,” Rudenko says. “I’m very grateful to have this opportunity… New York is definitely somewhere I might want to start a career in the future [because] I’m in love with musical theater.”
When they are not practicing and performing, honors chorus members can look forward to enjoying a full itinerary of New York highlights that Iannuzzi has organized, including two Broadway shows. “[Mid America] pays for our accommodations,” he says. “In fact, they’re putting us up at the Intercontinental Hotel at Times Square, which is a five-star luxury hotel. It’s insane,” he marvels. “If I were to plan the [whole] trip myself, I would never choose such accommodations!”
It’s all for the sake of creating something truly memorable for his hard-working crew. “My goal for the students is to give them an experience that they are going to remember beyond their time in high school… that they become obsessed with that kind of peak experience the arts can bring.” Whether they go on to study music in college or not, whether they join a community chorus, church choir, or start a group of their own, Iannuzzi hopes that their love of music never fades. “I just want them to be so impassioned and so excited about the work that we’ve done that they desire to keep that in their lives for a long time.”
Ezra Rudenko, and likely most of his fellow chorus members, would agree that their teacher has already succeeded. “Not only has he taught us to be great musicians, [Mr. Iannuzzi] also taught us how to be great people. I owe him a lot for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself so much. I think we all grow together.”