Ken deVries was used to walking by Carnegie Hall in New York City. When he went on business trips, he wondered what it was like inside, but it was usually closed or he didn’t have a ticket to an event.
On Sunday, June 17, that changed when he and 57 singers from the First Baptist Church of Gainesville Sanctuary Choir performed Pepper Choplin’s “Our Father: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer” in the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall in front of more than 1,500 guests.
“I’ve always thought it had to be people far more professional and far more accomplished than me to be invited to sing there,” said deVries, who sings baritone with the choir.
After performing “Our Father” for Choplin just over a year ago at First Baptist, Choplin invited the choir to perform at Carnegie Hall. He wanted it to be what choir director Mark Green called “the nucleus” for the other choirs that joined them on stage.
A total of 220 singers from across the world performed. First Baptist had the largest group among choirs from Brazil, Ontario, Pennsylvania and several from New England.
“It is a very big honor, and Carnegie Hall is just such a magnificent performance venue with the acoustics and everything,” Green said. “But it also gave us a chance to interact with other singers from various parts of the world, so I think just expanding our horizons in terms of developing new friendships ... it was just a moving and beautiful experience.”
The performance consisted of phrases taken from the “Lord’s Prayer” found in the Bible in Matthew 6:19-13. For Alicia Donnell, growing up Methodist made the performance unique because that prayer was one of the first things she learned in church.
She said she’s carried that on in her children’s lives, teaching them the same thing.
“We talk about the Lord’s Prayer,” said Donnell, who sings second soprano. “So to me, it’s really special. And really breaking it down between each sentence and going in depth for me to be able to sing it, I can’t go that in depth with my little children, but I feel like I understand it better.”
Choplin helped the choirs understand the songs better by explaining what he was thinking as he wrote. Green said that helped with expression.
“He talked to us a lot about how he came to write it, what inspired him in each section of the work,” Green said. “I feel like we just came together as a really unified voice presented in a very powerful way.”
That feeling ran through most singers on stage and in rehearsals.
“I think the most exciting part was getting to rehearse with the composer himself and hearing what he’s thinking when he’s writing,” Donnell said. “And then performing at Carnegie under his direction, I mean, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime for me. You feel like you really understand the music.”
Green said singing with and for a diverse group was “very meaningful and very moving.” Although it was his second time performing at Carnegie Hall, he said it was just as enjoyable, especially with a larger group this time.
“I kind of had the sense that I was with the cream of the crop with all of these different choirs,” deVries said. “So the sound that we made, the cords, some of them very warm, big cords sent chills up my spine.”