Roland-Story choirs prepare for Carnegie Hall performance

Ronna Lawless Staff Writer
Vocalists in the Roland-Story High School Choir perform a concert to a standing-room-only crowd in December. Photo by Kevin Patterson

It’s a perfect lesson that sometimes hard work pays off. It’s long hours of practice and dedication that earned vocalists at Roland-Story High School the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

On March 15, a group of 91 Roland-Story choir members will leave for the Big Apple, where they will stay until March 20.

The main purpose of the trip is for the choirs to perform at Carnegie Hall in an Honor Choir Festival and also by themselves.

With the honor choir festival, there are several rehearsals throughout the students’ time there to get prepared for the concert. However, there is still a lot of time to take in many enriching activities.

“We will be seeing the Broadway hit ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ taking in views at Top of the Rock, visiting the 9/11 memorial, taking the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, perusing Grand Central Station and Times Square, and eating at several excellent restaurants,” said vocal music director Tanner Stutzman.

The process started at the beginning of the 2017 school year, when Stutzman received a phone call from Manhattan Concert Productions and learned his choirs had been nominated by Dr. Lee Nelson from Wartburg College as a Program of Excellence.

“After that, they needed me to send in recordings of our groups to make sure we met the requirements and they were very complimentary of what they heard,” he said.

“They then presented us with the opportunity to perform along with the Honor Choir Festival, have the opportunity to sing a set of music by ourselves as the Roland-Story Choir at the concert, to which I obviously said an immediate yes,” Stutzman said.

“This chance to sing at Carnegie Hall, representing Roland-Story, is something these students will never have the chance to do again,” Stutzman said.

“The students’ reaction has been exactly what I had hoped. They were obviously very, very excited when I first told them about this opportunity,” Stutzman said.

Since then, the students have realized this high honor comes with a lot of responsibility to represent the program, community and state well while they are in NYC.

“They have been extremely hard at work this year to learn some very difficult music to present to what will be our well-versed audience,” Stutzman said.

The Roland-Story Vocal Music Program has seen a lot of success recently. Stutzman said in an interview that he feels “very fortunate,” but arguably the success stems from more than good luck.

In the fall, Roland-Story had a school record 15 students accepted in to the Iowa All-State Chorus, breaking the previous record of 12 set in 1979.

The total number of students in the vocal music program has grown from 98 in 2016 to 131 currently.

“Our first two concerts of this year have been standing room only in our 450-plus seat auditorium, which is so fun to be a part of and see the kids get that kind of support,” Stutzman said. “It was just announced not too long ago that they will be renovating our auditorium and it is going to be beautiful!”

The most rewarding thing Stutzman has experienced, however, in his third year of teaching at Roland-Story, is that all of the kids feel like they are improving as musicians.

“Our goal is to get better each and every day and not be afraid of change,” he said. “I talk about it every day with the students and they are absolutely buying in to that.

“They never settle for ‘good enough’ and that is how they have gotten to be where they are at now. Whether we consistently get the accolades or not, it is important to me that the kids feel they are being pushed and are improving.”

Stutzman emphasized that this isn’t a “just because” trip. It’s an opportunity the kids have earned.

“We are going because we were invited to be singing at Carnegie Hall,” he said. “As you can imagine, sending 91 students to Carnegie Hall is not cheap. The fundraising has been going very well, but we could always use more money toward the trip.”

Stutzman wants to make it an enriching experience for the students without them having to worry about where the money is going to come from to make this opportunity happen.

If you choose to donate to this “amazing trip,” you can drop checks off or mail them to the high school office in care of Tanner Stutzman. Checks can be made out to Roland-Story MAST.

“We so appreciate the incredible support we have already and continually receive from the Story City and Roland communities,” Stutzman said. “Thank you all for your help as we take this incredible trip!”