Thursday, April 6, 2017

NYC Part VII - The Concert

After a short rest at the hotel, we changed clothes and made our way to Carnegie Hall. This time, we entered through the main entrance while the choir members went to the artists’ entrance.

On the way in, we picked up some of the cough drops we’d heard about during our tour. They use only those wrapped in wax paper rather than cellophane because they don’t crinkle during the performance.

Our tickets were in the center section, fourth row, on the aisle. Unfortunately, we were on the opposite side of the stage from Kim, but we spotted her occasionally behind the harp during the performance.

Before the performance, the church pastor, Jack Graham, made a surprise appearance. All the choir members were thrilled to see him there. The choir was introduced before Michael W. Smith took the stage. “If you have ever wondered what angels sound like, you are about to hear the closest thing on earth.” The director did not lie.

The show started with an acapella version of “Shine on Us.” (All music is hyperlinked to YouTube performances. The only one I could find of the acapella version of the Michael W. Smith arrangement of this song is from a high school choir. Kim verified the arrangement. Since their Carnegie concert was not recorded, I don’t have their version.)

During the rehearsal, the conductor/director, David Hamilton, worked with the choir to change from their usual all-out, full-volume style to modulate this song. As he worked with them, we heard a real transformation. Before the concert, choir members expressed concern about this piece since they would have no orchestra or piano to cover any errors. They delivered their best performance of the night. (Yes, I’m biased, but this is the type of choral music I most enjoy.)

This photo was taken during rehearsal. Kim is in the front row just to the right of the microphone next to the seated man. (I believe he may be the choir’s director.)

Finally, Michael W. Smith took the stage. The program began with the “Glory Overture.” This song made me cry during rehearsal. The actual performance was no different. There followed several songs he has recorded like “Great is the Lord” and “Down to the River.” (Video is with the Prestonwood choir at a performance in Texas. If you look closely, you may spot Kim.) More of his well-known songs followed, interspersed with some I hadn’t heard before like, “The Giving,” “Heroes,” and “There She Stands,” his tribute to the Statue of Liberty following the 9-11 attack. All of these have become favorites. The first half ended with “Gloria from Angels We Have Heard on High.”

During intermission, I made a quick visit to the gift shop. During our tour, I had spotted a few items I wanted to buy as mementos of this special trip. The most famous joke about Carnegie hall goes like this:
A performer (identified variously as Jasha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein, or Jack Benny) was walking on the street in New York City when a passerby stopped him to ask, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “Practice, practice, practice.”
The joke has become a staple at the hall, and many of their souvenir items feature the words, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” I bought myself a t-shirt and mug with the saying. I also got Kim a different mug, also with the same words.

Back in my seat, I was ready for the second half. It began with several of Michael’s well-known songs. They included a song he recorded with the Prestonwood choir, “We Are Alive.” (This song is available for purchase on the Prestonwood Choir CD Songs of the People.)

By the time we reached “Mighty to Save” and “Breathe,” the entire audience was singing along, whether or not it was the original intention. We looked around us. The hall was packed, and we thought some of the people near us might have come from the Brooklyn Tabernacle—including their choir members. The sound of over 2,000 voices plus the orchestra, choir, and soloist internalized the music. Powerful stuff.

The concert ended with “Agnus Dei.” The video is from a performance at Prestonwood Baptist Church prior to the Carnegie Hall weekend. (Kim is in the front of the very first choir shot as well as several other places in the video.)

Of course, by the end of this one, the audience was on its feet. The applause rolled on and didn’t stop.

As expected, Michael returned to the stage for an encore. Following a charming story and the first encore, he began to play the familiar chords of my favorite of his songs, “Friends.”

For many years, our church had a rite of passage for our graduating high school seniors. One Sunday, either in May or June, the high schoolers took over the worship service. They planned and executed the whole thing. The graduating seniors gave the message. Our high school adviser, Connie Mills, always chose “Friends” as the closing song for those special services. Every time I hear it, I am taken back to those wonderful days.

I sang and cried at the same time, along with others around me. I did not need to apologize.

For years, we had tickets for some of the great performance venues in Los Angeles: the Dorothy Chandler, Royce Hall, Ambassador Auditorium, Schubert, etc. We had a box at the Hollywood Bowl for three years. During those years, we heard many great performers like Itzhak Perlman, James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Kings Singers, and on and on.

As we regained our breath at the end of the concert, I turned to Larry. “This is the best concert I’ve ever heard.” This was not an idle comment. He responded with, “yeah, and the second half was the very best singalong ever.”
Indeed, the entire evening was magic. But we weren’t finished yet.

Please enjoy the links to some fabulous music. Unfortunately, the concert itself wasn’t recorded or I would give you the link to buy the CD.
Next week, we wrap up our trip to NYC with a dinner cruise in NY Harbor.

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