When you think of Carnegie Hall in New York City, you probably think of the biggest musical stars in the entertainment business - Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Bill Haley & The Comets, Judy Garland, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Elton John - to name a very small selection. After May 5, a group of Hall County middle school students will be able to add their names to the roster of performers who have graced the stage of the 125 year-old music venue in Manhattan.
The Chestatee Carnegie Chorus, under the direction of Eric Elliott, will board a plane for New York bright and early Thursday, May 3. While the 21 eighth graders will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of NYC during their five-day stay, the main purpose of the trip is a Sunday night performance at Carnegie Hall.
The group is part of a larger group of middle schoolers - some 500 in number - from across the country invited to perform by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY). The name of the performance - Fresh Sounds: The Music of Russell Robinson.
"Russell Robinson is the composer who invited us to sing at Carnegie," Elliott said in a recent interview in his classroom at Chestatee Academy in northwest Hall County. "He approached us after our performance [at a music festival in North Carolina] and said 'I think I have an opportunity for you' and he personally invited us to come and sing at Carnegie Hall."
Elliott said he was excited at the prospect, but a little skeptical.
"I thought this is never going to happen because it's Carnegie Hall, it's New York, it's middle schoolers," Elliott said.
The administrators at the school wouldn't allow Elliott to be skeptical, though, and they told him they would do everything they could to make the trip and the performance happen.
"Mr. Elliott is a very talented educator and I wasn't surprised by the invitation that he received," said Chestatee Academy Principal Jennifer Kogod. "This is special...it's something that he deserves as a music teacher. He's a phenomenal chorus teacher...he really puts so much time and dedication into working with our kids."
Kogod is one of the chaperones for the trip, and she noted Elliott didn't have to "twist my arm" to get her to agree to travel to NYC with the group.
Between now and next week, Elliott said not only will the students be rehearsing the 16 songs on the performance list, but also, they'll get some history lessons on Carnegie Hall so they understand what an honor it is to be asked to perform at the historic venue.
As for the students, they've devoted extra time to rehearsals and they seem to be ready for the challenge of performing on a big stage.
"It's a great opportunity and not many people get the opportunity to do this, especially at our age," said chorus member Hugh Pruitt. "Singing in Carnegie Hall with 500 people is going to be crazy."
Fellow chorus member Molefe Sijiye agreed.
"Sitting here in this room, we have a nice sound but we can't produce the same power [of hundreds of voices]," Sijiye said. "Having that amount of power is going to be really cool to hear."