Galesburg wows New York City and vice versa

By Caroline Porter 

Last week Galesburg invaded New York City. The Knox College Choir, Galesburg Community Chorus and Carl Sandburg Community College Choir performed at the renowned concert venue, Carnegie Hall. We were joined by the Rock Island High School Symphonic Chorale and two choirs from New Jersey, the Piscataway High School Concert Choir and Lakeland Chorale from Wanaque. It was a choir of 260 and a more beautiful sound, you can’t imagine.

Knox College Music Professor Laura Lane was the picture of professionalism and energy directing this huge choir, a symphony orchestra and two soloists from the Metropolitan Opera. It was because of her invitation to direct the Knox College Choir at Carnegie Hall that we were able to have this adventure of a lifetime.

We performed Dona Nobis Pacem by Vaughn Williams, a haunting and exciting piece actually sung in English. It is about the Civil War, the people, the veterans, the carnage and then peace. The orchestra music is thrilling, with drums pounding and cymbals clashing. Our choir was third and last of three performances. We heard the first and were getting organized during the second part. I believe our performance was a good finish to the concert – just one continuous movement that moved quickly and was over in half an hour. We received a standing ovation!! At Carnegie Hall!!

After a day of traveling by bus and airplane last Friday, about a dozen of us saw the Broadway play, "The Producers." It has won every award possible and was a scream. After the show, we stood and walked at Times Square with literally thousands of people.

Saturday we had a four-hour practice in the morning at a church within walking distance of our hotel, which was right next to Grand Central Station. The church was so huge that our 260 -member choir was actually organized and practiced in the basement level. Saturday afternoon we took the train to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked halfway over. What a spectacular view. To those of us from a small town, it is hard to fathom the numbers of people living and working and moving around the city, and even more who are just visiting. We rarely heard English spoken.

The group was going to go to "Ground Zero," the site of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade center buildings, but I had no desire to see that, so I went back to the hotel to rest before the next event. At 5 p.m. I met a group of Knox College alumni at the Yale Club, across the Street from Grand Central Station and eleven of us traveled by van to a dinner at New Canaan, Connecticut.


It should have taken about an hour to get there, but our van driver got lost. The transportation was arranged by a nice gentleman who paid for the round trip. We were late to the cocktail hour, but arrived in plenty of time for the dinner. Probably just as well. But there I met four women who were in my graduation class at Knox, including my dear friend Darlene Daer Larson, my former roommate. The trip back was less eventful, thank goodness, and we were actually dropping people off in downtown Manhattan because they lived nearby. It was around midnight and I decided that at that time of night, Manhattan is safer than Galesburg. The streets were teeming with people and activity, as if it was two in the afternoon.

So, another night of hitting the bed after midnight, pretending I’m not turning 69 this week. And speaking of beds, I roomed with three other women. Two slept in a king-sized bed and two of us had rollaway beds. I was pretty comfortable, actually, except my feet flopped over the end. Four middle-aged women in one room with one bathroom is a challenge. But no one got sick and I knew the exact location of the public bathroom nearby. We had fun and got to know each other REALLY well.

Sunday morning we walked miles to get to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue for one of the many Palm Sunday services. I should have just gone to look at the church without attending a service. To be a Christian and not be able to take communion in a Christian church is maddening. We were obviously a group of Protestants (we weren’t kneeling) and not only could we not take communion, but during the period of "greeting," with our hands extended, we were ignored.

After church we walked to Rockefeller Plaza and watched the skaters. Before the group headed to Macy’s I left again and walked back to the hotel, picking up a T-shirt for granddaughter Wendi on the way. After all, we had another four-hour practice that afternoon. Sunday night Darlene traveled into the city from her home in Shenorock, near White Plains, and took me to dinner at a wonderful restaurant in SoHo. Soho is a newly developed commercial district ,which has become quite the place to be, perhaps even to live. It was the first good, long conversation we have had in over 45 years and it was a lovely evening.

Darlene and I arrived back at Grand Central Station and she headed home, and as she left, pointed the direction for me to get out of the station and to my hotel.

Monday was the big day – the day of the concert at Carnegie Hall. In the morning a bunch of us took the train (subway) to the Empire State Building, which is open again to the public. We arrived back at the hotel in time to find some lunch and rest a bit. Buses were due to leave for Carnegie Hall at 1 o’clock for dress rehearsal. It was our first glimpse of the famous concert hall and we were not disappointed. Although I have to say, the Galesburg Orpheum Theater, though not as famous, is just as beautiful.

The buses to transport hundreds of choir members to and from Carnegie Hall were double-parked along 42nd Street. We were assigned letters of the alphabet for the bus we were to take. After one practice with a full orchestra, the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and two soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, the choir had to be ready. Actually, those practices are more for the orchestra and soloists than the choirs.

After getting back late in the afternoon, we were dressed in our concert dress by 7:15 to go back to the Hall. We were ushered into balcony seats so we could watch the first third of the program. Then we were herded down into a rehearsal room, which was much too small, and there was no place to sit or put coats. Soon we were moved to another, larger and more comfortable room, but still no place to sit. The many high school and college students in the choir, which was most of the members, had not gotten much sleep during our stay. The rest of us, probably a few dozen, were older and fighting fatigue. But never underestimate the power of adrenalin. When we finally walked out onto that stage, to a full house, no less, we were ready.

After the performance at about 10:30, we were ushered onto our buses again and driven to the pier on the Hudson River, where we boarded The Spirit of New York Cruise ship. There were three levels – with music in the lowest and buffets at every level. Just barely moving by this time, some of us with Community Chorus collapsed on the upper level where we could clearly see the water, lights of the city and a close view of the Statue of Liberty. We arrived back at our hotel about 2 a.m.

Tuesday morning, March 22nd, we were actually able to have a leisurely breakfast and get ready for the trip back to Galesburg. Once again our bus wound through unbelievable traffic to get to LaGuardia airport and amazing as it was, our driver didn’t know where to take us at the airport. We crossed the same intersection about four times and the atmosphere got a bit tense, with our wondering if we would miss our plane. But plans had been made well by Mid-American Productions, and we got through security and on the plane.

The logistics of this trip were horrendous and one had to be in good physical condition to get luggage from the bus into the airport, off the baggage ramp back into a bus, always surrounded by many others trying to do the same thing.

Everything went smoothly until we were just outside of Rock Falls, when snow began to fall, getting thicker by the moment. The bus taking us from O’Hare to Knox College traveled slower and slower. We began to see cars that had gone off the Interstate into the ditch. Having shared funny stories from our wild five days, we became quiet and apprehensive. Finally we turned off the Interstate onto Main Street of Galesburg. What a welcome sight. Amidst wet snow falling and slippery streets, we piled off the bus at the "circle" at Knox College and met our families, who seemed awfully glad to see us.

It’s taken about a week to recover from the wonderful trip. I still get goose bumps thinking about it - and some day I may come back down to earth.

Dona Nobis Pacem will be sung by our three local choirs and directed by Laura Lane at the Galesburg Community Chorus spring concert on May 14 at the Orpheum. You won’t want to miss it.