From Texas to Carnegie Hall: Choir Director Dinah Menger and the National High School Choral Festival
Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute recently announced the four choruses selected for its 2013 National High School Choral Festival (NHSCF), a one-of-a-kind program culminating in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and world-renowned conductor John Nelson on Saturday, April 20, 2013.
Below, Dinah Menger, director of the Arlington High School Chamber Singers based in Arlington, TX, shares insight about the music scene in Arlington, her chorus's pre-concert rituals, and what it means to her choir to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Dinah Menger conducting the Arlington High School Chamber Singers
What does it mean to you, your choir, and your community to be accepted into this program?
When I received word that our Chamber Singers had been accepted, I am surprised you did not hear my YELP in NYC! One of my singers recently went to NYC with our orchestra. They toured Carnegie Hall, and the docent asked if anyone would like to sing on the stage. She volunteered and was overtaken by the acoustical resonance. When I told my singers about this opportunity, she burst into tears … never dreaming that she would get to go back and actually perform there!
One of the things on my “bucket list” as a conductor will now be fulfilled! This is a dream come true for me as a singer, performer, and director. To watch my choristers participate in this kind of venue and with fellow like-minded musicians will be a memory to treasure forever! Our parents are already making arrangements to be right alongside their children so as not to miss this life-changing adventure.
Please describe the musical life in your town. If somebody were to come to your town to check out the music scene, where should they go?
Arlington sits right between Dallas and Fort Worth! We have wonderful venues everywhere, including the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas and Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Both Dallas and Fort Worth have professional symphony orchestras, opera companies, professional ballet companies, and a plethora of theaters. Arlington has its own ballet company and a new downtown outdoor live music venue called the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts. Musical life in our metroplex is thriving! Whatever your tastes … from country western to classical … something is always happening. Pretty lively place to live!
What are your concert traditions? Pre-concert? Post-concert? A particular song that is featured on each concert?
We have 340 singers in our program in 11 choirs. We always feature every singer in every concert! I love this and hope that it makes every chorister feel like they are a viable and active member of our choral department. At Christmas, we perform in our annual Renaissance Festival and serve more than 700 guests a full dinner, Royal Court play, and concert. All of our singers are dressed in costume, and they serve as wenches, jesters, clowns, royalty, and peasants. Our community is very supportive, and this has now become a family tradition for many of our long-term patrons! Our spring concert is filled with tradition! We are always visited by tons of choir alumni who come to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” with our outgoing seniors. Our choir president always conducts this piece, and it leaves all of us hugging and crying. Arlington High School is the oldest high school in Arlington, so the alumni ages on stage range from 18–80! Very moving!
Pre-concert traditions always involve a time of quiet reflection together and then revving up for the music to be performed. We reflect on the meaning of the music, and many of our choristers share what it means to them personally. We try to shed the outside world and get ready for a heartfelt performance. Post-concert traditions are that no one wants to leave! We visit with our guests and each other and usually have to be shooed out by our security guards! As to a particular song, we all learn the above mentioned piece by Peter Lutkin, and our seniors learn “That Lonesome Road” arranged by The King’s Singers to be sung together every chance they get.
What’s your choir’s favorite piece of repertoire? Why?
The Chamber Singers are a wonderfully eclectic group of individuals! The magic of music it that they are like family; bonded fiercely by their love of advanced repertoire that pushes them past their musical limits. A piece that they love and do so well is Robert Pearsall’s “Lay a Garland” for its purity and chordal tension. This piece is so exposed that it takes great concentration and great musical stamina to perform … just what they love!
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