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Want to know how these Chestatee Academy kids ended up at Carnegie Hall?
It took more than practice, practice, practice
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From left, Chestatee Academy choir students Madison Criddle, Atiana Stacey, Maya Fuller, Lauren Reed, Bailey Hallman, Ethan Clark, Madison Bowelle, Rebecca Skelton, Molefe Sijiye, Chris Pruitt, Walker Ritchie, Sam McMahan, Mitchell Ryder, John Sykes, Hugh Pruitt, Pashion Reese, Riley Tucker, Levi Popham, Emma Gipson, Cheyenne Ewing, and Hanna Pierce visit New York City in early May. Photo by Eric Elliott.

Students at Chestatee Academy started May with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Part of the middle school’s chorus traveled to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, May 5, with other middle schoolers from across the United States.

“We have traveled for years,” Eric Elliott, choral director at the school. “We have traveled within the state of Georgia and then we've traveled down to Florida to Orlando and done festivals down there for years … but we've never done a trip where we hopped on a plane and flew and traveled that far and performed at a location like Carnegie Hall.”

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Students from Chestatee Academy's choir stand on stage among other middle school students from across the United States after their performance at Carnegie Hall, Sunday, May 5. The school was invited to perform after the show's composer saw them at another concert. Photo by Eric Elliott

And it happened mostly by chance: Russell Robinson, a composer, recognized Chestatee’s talent at a festival in 2018. He asked Elliott to call him once the festival was over and Robinson asked his choir to join the performance of his compositions at Carnegie Hall.

Typically, choirs would have to submit a video of it singing to be chosen for something like a performance at Carnegie Hall, but things were different for Elliott and his students.

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Chestatee Academy Choir Director Eric Elliott leads a group of choir students in song Friday, May 10, 2019, in the school choir room. The group of 21 choir students were recently invited to participate in a performance of the music of Russell L. Robinson for a New York City concert series at the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. - photo by Scott Rogers
“This is my 18th year to travel with kids and nobody's ever done this to us before,” Elliott said. “And I haven't heard many of my colleagues say this has happened to them before.”

While it was a surprise to be invited, Elliott and the students had all the support they needed from the school system and others at Chestatee.

Jennifer Kogod, principal at the school, actually traveled to Carnegie Hall with the group after she helped make sure everything was cleared through the Hall County Board of Education and the students understood their responsibilities.

“I was just beaming with pride,” Kogod said. “It was just a special memory that I will always have. Mr. Elliott and I have been in this profession for a long time and it's just a highlight of our career to see the kids being able to be spotlighted like that.”

Altogether, 21 students went on the trip. Eighth-grader Maya Fuller said she was nervous to perform with a lot of other students — the Carnegie choir much larger than she’s used to — but calmed down once they rehearsed a couple times.

“I was afraid that everybody was going to be super intimidating, but actually, everybody was very friendly and they made it super easy,” Fuller said. “I was nervous I would be worse than everyone else or underprepared, but I actually think we might have been more prepared than quite a lot of the people there.”

Even though Hugh Pruitt, another eighth-grader, has only been singing for about a year, he realized the importance and significance of the famous hall as soon as he stepped on stage.

“Singing at Carnegie Hall is something I'll always remember,” Pruitt said. “And getting that experience is definitely unusual, especially at my age, so it's something I'll remember forever.”

Elliott felt the same.

He had never been to Carnegie Hall, so getting to see his students on stage performing, and then getting to go on stage himself following the performance was something he said he’ll never be able to get out of his mind.

“There's so much history there,” Elliott said. “Those halls that were built years ago were created for choirs. They were created for an experience like that and the hall just sounded amazing. And as the kids sang, you could look around and see all the ornate architecture and just to hear them sing, it was just a really cool experience.”

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Chestatee Academy Choir Director Eric Elliott leads a group of choir students in song Friday, May 10, 2019, in the school choir room. - photo by Scott Rogers
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