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  • Oct3Mon

    Heavenly Chorus

    A Salvation Army officer makes her debut at Carnegie Hall. October 3, 2016 by Kristin Ostensen
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    New York City's Carnegie Hall is one of the world's most famous stages, hosting performers such as Billie Holiday, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Earlier this year, a Salvation Army officer added her name to that prestigious list, performing Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna at Carnegie as a member of the Flin Flon Community Choir.

    For Major Debbie Allen, corps officer in Flin Flon, Man., it was an experience like none other.

    “It was amazing,” says Major Allen, a soprano. “Singing with a choir of 160 people, there was such support there. Everybody wanted to do their best, to sing the piece the way it was supposed to be sung, and we accomplished that. It felt really good.”

    Major Allen has been the corps officer in Flin Flon since 2013, and a member of the community choir almost as long.

    “The week after I arrived, I went to a Rotary meeting. We sang O Canada, and several members of the club said to me afterward, 'You need to join the choir,' ” she says.

    Major Allen grew up in The Salvation Army and has always been involved in music ministry, both choral and band, so the community choir was a natural fit.

    “I like to sing, and it's an opportunity to get to know people in the community, beyond the church circles,” Major Allen says. Along with the community choir, she also plays in the Flin Flon Community Band.

    Performing at Carnegie Hall was an “amazing” experience for Mjr Debbie Allen Performing at Carnegie Hall was an “amazing” experience for Mjr Debbie Allen

    As the only Salvation Army officer in a town of 5,600, Major Allen sees participation in the choir as an extension of her ministry. “In a small town, everybody knows who you are and, being in the choir, I get to know who they are as well,” she says. “Participating in community activities shows people that I want to belong here. It's important for the community to know that I see this as my home.”

    In her three seasons with the choir, Major Allen has performed a wide repertoire, from the Messiah to Les Misérables.

    “Our choir director, Crystal Kolt, had been trying to get the rights to do Les Misérables for 20 years,” notes Major Allen. “We did five performances, all sold-out. We had a power failure during one of the performances, but the show went on. The crowd did not leave because the singers were amazing.”

    The choir started practising Lux Aeterna in January to perform at Carnegie Hall on June 12. It was one of a dozen choirs participating in the performance. The concert, presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY), was conducted by Jonathan Griffith, DCINY artistic director.

    The name of the piece, which runs approximately 27 minutes, means “eternal light” in Latin. “It is a religious piece,” Major Allen notes. “We were singing about Jesus as the eternal light—that gave it great significance for me.”

    Lux Aeterna is divided into five parts, two of which are taken from the requiem mass and three of which come from Te Deum, a hymn of praise to God.

    After months of practice, Major Allen entered Carnegie Hall on the morning of the performance for a final dress rehearsal. At first, the size of the hall, which seats 2,800, was intimidating. “The room is huge,” she remembers. “Even though there were 160 of us, we felt so little.”

    Walking back on stage later that day, Major Allen was excited to see the hall was about 80 percent full. “The room was electric,” she smiles.

    When the final notes faded to silence, the audience was absolutely still, and after about five seconds, rewarded the performers with a well-deserved standing ovation. The New York Concert Review described the performance as a “celestial journey.”

    The Flin Flon Community Choir hopes to be back at Carnegie Hall in two years, singing with DCINY again. Until then, the choir has set its sights on another New York institution: Broadway. In spring 2017, it will perform Mamma Mia or Shrek: The Musical, to an enthusiastic hometown crowd in Flin Flon.

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