EAST COUNTY — It’s five weeks before Carnegie Hall — the place with the high ceilings and white-and-gold walls, with the taxi cabs honking outside — the place where dreams burst into song.
It’s sixth period, and Braden River High Rhapsody students are singing John Rutter’s “Requiem,” an anguished seven-part piece broken into seven-minute movements. The condensed chords and pained faces look and sound nothing like the bliss of what New York will be like.
“When you listen to happy music, sometimes you know it’s happy music because the notes all sound right and pretty,” said Nathan Evens, River Rhapsody’s senior student director. “With this, you listen to it and you say, ‘That’s a really ugly note. That doesn’t sound good at all.’ But it’s supposed to sound that way. I’m not going to feel like I’m suffering when I’m up on that stage, though.”
On Memorial Day, 34 members of Braden River’s River Rhapsody Chorus perform “Requiem,” under the direction of famed British composer John Rutter, at Carnegie Hall, in New York City. Braden River will be one of eight schools to perform.
The invitation came two years ago, after Milburn Price, dean emeritus of the School of Performing Arts at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and interim director of chorus activities at Stetson University, heard Braden River sing during a 2011 local honors program he led.
Kerrie Couchois, Braden River’s 34-year-old choral director, happily will hand off her students to Rutter, one her idols since she was 15.
She’s always wanted to sing at Carnegie Hall. Her students will beat her to it.
“I have this thing — a bucket list — that’s kind of a joke, but it’s serious,” said Rebekah Johns, a senior in her third year with River Rhapsody. “One (thing) on the list was to sing in New York City. And, I am totally doing that now.”
The River Rhapsody choir, an elite group for which the Pirates’ 170 chorus members can audition, started rehearsing the song earlier this school year; Rhapsody members learned each of the seven movements a month at a time. The path to sing it, however, started much earlier.
Two years ago, River Rhapsody was designated as an extracurricular group, limited to practicing after school.
Now, students who make it into River Rhapsody are in a class — in this case, sixth period — during which they can practice. They rehearse after school, as well.
The group also performs around the community for donations.
To make the five-day, four-night trip to New York City, students had to raise $1,500 each.
Many couldn’t afford that price, but the community got the message.
Donations and funds from the the Braden River Choral Booster Association, a non-profit 501(c)(3), have paid for to send everyone to Carnegie Hall. The association, however, is still taking donations to help reimburse costs of about $2,000.
At least 10 of the 34 singers, including Batista, earned scholarship from donations.
Couchois will pay for her own way, as will 13 chaperones.
Loyal followers of the choir will join, too.
Interested people can email Couchois at [email protected] to get an order form to buy tickets for the concert at a discounted rate.
“I think the community thinks it’s cool to see young people motivated to do something good instead of doing something wrong,” said Hannah Eubanks, a senior in her second year with River Rhapsody. “We’re doing something we love to do. We are all good kids.”
The group members spend time with each other outside of singing. Some play in the school marching band together, while others go home and read music together.
“We all want to do something special in there,” Evens said. “It’s a really great to be part of ensemble where you know the person to the left and to your right want to be the best.”
Together, in New York, they’ll share stories with taxi drivers, gawk at skyscrapers, boat to the Statue of Liberty and walk across a Carnegie Hall stage they joke is too sacred to touch.
“We’re just a little choir from little Braden River High School, and we’re doing it — living every musician’s dream,” Eubanks said.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
Braden River High School’s River Rhapsody Chorus is about $2,000 short of sending all its students to perform at Carnegie Hall on Memorial Day.
Individuals can contribute to the choir’s costs by sending checks to Braden River High School, Attn: Kerrie Couchois, 6545 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton, Fla., 34203; or by donating online at bradenrivercba.com.
Checks should be made payable to the Braden River High School Choral Booster Association.