When Scott Finch and 22 of his college singers take to the stage this May, they’ll be following in the footsteps of such greats as Tchaikovsky, Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne.
That’s because the stage is Carnegie Hall.
The assistant professor of music and worship arts at Briercrest College and Seminary is preparing his group to join a choir of selected university students in Carnegie Hall’s Masterworks Series. The invitation to perform comes from Bruce Chamberlain, the director of choral activities at the University of Arizona. He was one of Finch’s professors in his doctoral program and will be a guest conductor for the Masterworks Series.
Along with a guest conductor, the choir will perform classical works that they might not normally have the opportunity to do on their own. During the week the Briercrest students are participating, the choir will be singing two Brahms works, Nänie and Schicksalslied, accompanied by the New York City Chamber Orchestra.
“Artists grow best like crops do – if you allow them to cross-pollinate,” Finch said with a smile. “Part of the attraction to the universities is getting to work with the featured conductor. These are renowned conductors in their field. For our students to be able to interface at Carnegie with world-class musicians who are known in their discipline . . . in front of an international audience of influence – it’s hard to quantify how that works!”
Finch knows that an experience like this is a chance of a lifetime for his students.
“New York is the epicentre of the artistic world in music,” he said. “I’m fairly certain that no one from Briercrest has been on the Carnegie Hall stage – so this is a great opportunity for our kids to do that.”
For music major Jenna Nash, this trip provides several new opportunities.
“I am very excited to go to New York City!” she said. “I have never travelled on a plane before or really outside Canada before. I’ve been to Minot, N.D. and that is it. So this will be a great experience to get out and see something new. . . . Getting a chance to experience and sing new music, and the chance that we have to be among and perform with ‘professional’ musicians is something that I am looking forward to.”
Finch is well aware of how powerful fraternizing with excellent musicians can be.
A small town pastor’s son, he enrolled in college thinking he would also become a pastor. He played the trumpet, but was too afraid to audition for the college choir. His future wife, Jennifer, told his music professors about his fears and they creatively found a way for Finch to audition.
“They said ‘we need to talk to you about work study next semester,’” Finch recalled. “That’s what I thought I was showing up to do and then it wound up being an audition. They said, ‘We’d like you to sing something . . . don’t you know a hymn?’ I sang the first stanza of Holy, Holy, Holy and they said ‘We have a place for you in the choir.’”
When Finch showed up to choir, he knew he’d found his destiny.
“That rocked my world!” he exclaimed. “I’d come out of rehearsal sometimes in tears . . . I looked forward to every rehearsal – I wouldn’t miss rehearsal unless I was dying and I soaked up as much as I could.”
Finch spent the weeks of class studying the choral conductor and quizzing him after class. The professor asked him if he had ever thought of a graduate degree in conducting. Finch didn’t even know there was such a thing.
“I auditioned at Westminster Choir College, which is one of the premiere schools in Princeton, New Jersey, and Temple University and Florida State University,” he said. “Lo and behold, I got into all of them. I still look back and I think ‘Lord, how in the world?’ It took that sort of declaration by God for Him to say, ‘Scott, this is what you are going to do and you need to stop being afraid to do the work.’”
Finch received a full scholarship for graduate studies at Temple University and from there he went on to doctoral work at the University of Arizona.
He marvels at the road that brought him to this place.
“The thing that is profoundly moving to me is God taking a kid from a little know-nothing town with parents that really weren’t into classical music and then putting me where I’ve been able to glean from great artists who are recognized nationally and internationally,” Finch said.
The music professor knows the Carnegie Hall experience will require a lot from the students he selected to go. Rehearsals for the two Brahms works will begin after Briercrest’s commencement in April.
“It’s in German,” he said. “It’s not going to be an easy project. I needed people who are actually going to work on this and are dedicated to it. . . . If it means eight hours a day, it means eight hours a day.”
The price tag for the trip is around $3,000 per student. The school is trying to raise funds for at least half of that amount.
“My hope for my kids,” Finch related, “(is that) they can smell and taste and feel what it’s like to interact at this level. Who knows how to tell others how much growth can be experienced just by being around those who play well?”