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Flagstaff's Chorale Debut At Carnegie Hall

Gillian Ferris Kohl
Dr. Edith Copley conducts one of the last rehearsals before the choirs head to New York

This weekend, New York City’s Carnegie Hall will host a choral festival with a decidedly northern Arizona flare. Three local choirs are performing for the first time at the famous theater. And, as you might imagine, it’s a very big deal for this group of small town singers. 

Zach Mabes is a tenor with the Flagstaff Master Chorale. And ever since he found out he’d be performing at Carnegie Hall, he’s been putting in a lot of rehearsal time at the music building at Northern Arizona University.

 “…laughing is contagious and it’s advantageous, ha ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho ho hee hee hee hee..."

Mabes is 18 and the youngest member of the choir. He can’t believe that his first year in the Master Chorale is also the first time in the group’s nearly 40 year history that they’ll perform at Carnegie Hall.

“…oh man, it’s a fantasy really, just standing there and watching all the seats fill up. I think that’s gonna be the most interesting part is seeing how many people can just pack into that thing and just the sound and the spotlights and everything. It’s a fantasy, it really is…”

It's also a fantasy for Edith Copley. She's the choir's conductor. 

“…I think it’s interesting that the first time I conduct in New York City it’s gonna be in Carnegie Hall…”

Copley’s been teaching at NAU since the early 90’s. She also conducts the Flagstaff Master Chorale, the Shrine of the Ages Choir and the NAU Choir. When she got a phone call last year inviting her to conduct at Carnegie Hall, Copley says there was one question she had to ask before she would accept.

“…can I bring the NAU Choir and the Master Chorale and they’re like certainly, you can certainly do that. And then when I brought this up, I said, well I think we’re gonna go to Carnegie Hall next year and they're all like WHAT, you know. They were very, very excited..."

Carnegie Hall is one of the most iconic stages in America, if not the world. Since it was built in 1890, some of history’s greatest artists, dignitaries and authors have taken the stage, including The New York Philharmonic, Bob Dylan, Theodore Roosevelt and JK Rowling. And now, Edith Copley says, it’s Flagstaff’s turn.

“…we’re bringing about 145 singers…10:15…and then there’s husbands and wives and friends and we also have alumni joining us in New York. So it’s a real Flagstaff, NAU, Town and Gown event…”

The “gown” part of the event is something second soprano Katherine Poen is particularly excited about.

“…we have a chorus outfit. It’s a very beautiful black skirt and a black top with sequins and we have shiny jewelry to wear with it…”

Poen is a retired music teacher and joined the Master Chorale in 1978. She is the eldest member of the group, having just celebrated her 85thbirthday last Sunday.

“…I think that’s going to be the epitome of everything, my career, my life, everything…It’s going to be fabulous…”

But before the big event…practice.

“…yoo hoo, spooky, Charlie, what…”

Don’t worry. This isn’t what the choir will be performing in New York. It’s just a warm-up exercise that Dr. Copley takes them through. Eventually, it leads to a song called “Stars I Shall Find” by David Dickau.

As soon as the choir opens their mouths, the lights on my digital recorder spike into the red zone. It is abundantly clear that this group has not only the talent, but the volume to fill up Carnegie Hall this weekend.