Glenwood Springs students, teacher see dreams come to life at Carnegie Hall
Shanti Gruber shared a dream with many musicians: From age 5 on, she imagined performing at Carnegie Hall.
Gruber, a trained classical pianist, has spent 10 years as the middle and high school vocal music teacher in Glenwood Springs schools, and she hoped to celebrate that anniversary. Through the years, she’s taken students to honor choir and other regional events, but 10 years felt like time for something special.
Gruber, who is also musical director for GSHS’s annual musical, learned some students dreamed of seeing a show on Broadway. After some searching, she found Choirs of America Nationals for Top Choirs, a program that includes performing at Carnegie Hall.
Gruber was sold. And after a short application process, Glenwood Springs was one of 20 high schools invited to participate.
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That was the easy part. Actually getting to Carnegie? Well, that required practice, practice, practice, as the saying goes — and a bit of luck.
The entire choir conducted fundraisers as the trip neared; money raised by students who didn’t attend was put to uniforms and other needs.
The local Eagles club hosted a series of concerts that benefited the program, and Chandler Marketing contributed to the group. Leroy Hill, Rusty and Anita Moulton and the choir parents and family were also essential to raising the necessary money, Gruber said.
The 19 students who signed up for the trip rehearsed the assigned material during lunches and after school. The 20 selected choirs would join to perform four selections in New York, and they would have only two rehearsals before the show.
“It took some extra effort for these students to do this, and it was definitely a commitment beyond the financial part,” Gruber said.
Come March 20, the students, Gruber and three chaperones boarded a minibus and Gruber drove them to Denver. They arrived at the airport the next morning only to learn Winter Storm Toby had canceled all flights to New York City.
“My heart sank,” Gruber recalled. “I looked at the booking agent at United and I said, ‘These kids are going to perform at Carnegie Hall. I have to get them there.’ ”
By some luck or miracle, the agent found one flight to the East Coast. The Washington, D.C.-bound flight had 23 seats left — the exact number the Glenwood group needed.
As they flew across the nation, the group’s tour company called charter bus groups to arrange travel from D.C. to New York. The agent was rejected 29 times, but the 30th company said yes, just as the group landed in D.C.
Six hours after leaving the nation’s capital, they arrived in New York City. Gruber said the challenges made their arrival even more exciting. They saw Baltimore, Delaware and other places they wouldn’t have without the challenges. The choir students sang the whole way to the city.
As the New York skyline came into view, they burst into songs about the city.
Gruber is aware of how fortunate the group was: Boulder High School’s choir was also supposed to be on the flight out of Denver. They were unable to make the performance.
While in New York, the choir worked with master conductor Rollo Dilworth. The Choirs of America program features a different conductor at each program. Dilworth happens to be Gruber’s favorite composer.
During the rehearsals, Dillworth emphasized diction and communicating meaning. Cellphones aren’t allowed during the performances, but Gruber was able to record the rehearsals for her own professional study.
The students also attended a Broadway workshop in which an actress provided one of the students with coaching. Gruber said it was powerful for the entire group to see this top-notch actress provide such instruction to one of their own.
“Being in such a small town, we forget that there’s this big world out there,” she said. “I love being able to connect what I’m teaching in the classroom and have the students be able to apply it to real life experience, and make connections with other people outside of their school.”
The group also attended a Broadway performance of “Phantom of the Opera” — a favorite for both Gruber and the students — and visited landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
It was Gruber’s first trip to the city, as it was for many of the students. But she hopes it won’t be the last. Her Carnegie dream may not have taken the shape she once daydreamed about, but she hopes to share it with future students, too.
“I wasn’t conducting. I wasn’t performing,. But my kids were,” she said. “That dream is fulfilled.”
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