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Experiencing Carnegie Hall from the stage

Image inside Carnegie Hall

To the University of Southern Maine’s Jonas Rimkunas, the real gift of performing on one of the world’s storied stages, Carnegie Hall, is perspective.

While surrounded by nearly 50 of his fellow singers from the Dr. Alfred & D. Suzi Osher School of Music, he stood in the spot where Benny Goodman ushered in swing music, where George Gershwin debuted works and where nearly every popular performer since — from Frank Sinatra and The Beatles to Luciano Pavarotti and Lady Gaga — have performed.

“It was literally like all four years of my time at USM built up to that point,” said Rumkunas, who had graduated a few weeks earlier. All his long hours, all the rehearsals and tests, recitals and late night studies changed perspective there. “There was a special energy that you could just feel.”

Around him, University of Southern Maine students gasped. At least one quietly wept.

“I cried both times I went on stage,” said Bella St. Cyr, a 20-year-old rising junior. “It was very very moving, seeing it from the performer’ perspective and feeling just how important that space is.”

The moments of awe were tempered by the need to perform as professionals on a world class stage.

Singing behind established opera soloists Alyson Cambridge, David Margulis and Sidney Outlaw, the USM students and new alumni joined with Maine community chorus members to form the National Opera Chorus on June 11th. They wrapped up the evening concert which also featured the Detroit Youth Choir and the West Virginia University Chamber Choir, with eight pieces including a rarely performed piece by Scott Joplin.

“They were the featured group of the night,” said Nicolas Dosman, who conducted the students. USM’s director of Choral Studies and an associate professor of Music-Choral Conducting, Dosman said he had extraordinary pride in all of the USM singers.

“They knew and I knew they were going to be wonderful on stage,” Dosman said. “When we were on that stage and they sang with the orchestra for the first time, that’s when it really clicked that something magical was really going to happen.”

Alan Kaschub, the music school’s director, called the concert, “fabulous.”

He also said he was proud of the professionalism and lack of drama that came with the trip.

“USM is a place to go if you’re serious about making great music,” Kaschub said. “The students who made this trip were very serious. They showed up to everything on time, prepared and with professional dispositions.”

For his part, Rumkunas felt the need to behave as a professional. The recent Classical Voice Performance degree holder plans to begin work this fall in the University of Maryland’s master’s opera studio. 

Professional conduct will carry the students far, Dosman said. And in a place like Carnegie, there is no other way to behave.

“You can’t afford to be anything but professional,” he said.

It’s also necessary for further travel. After all, prior to the pandemic, singers from USM performed in Vietnam. Previous groups have traveled to Europe.

“I do think they will continue to travel,” Kaschub said. “I know Dr. Dosman has plans for future travel for those groups.”

This kind of travel has also had widespread support from the university,” Dosman said.

“In order for these opportunities to take place, they need to have vision,” he said, “There has to be a belief that this is important, enriching the lives and educational experiences of these students. That has to be there. It’s very difficult to go to Asia and perform or go to Carnegie and perform. It’s also a financial commitment. We had great support from the Provost’s office and the university to make this happen.”

To Louis Brecter, a 21-year-old rising senior studying Music Education, it was the chance to cross something off his bucket list.

“No matter what I do — 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 40 years from now — that will always be the first time that I stepped on that stage,” Brechter said. “That will always be the first time I have performed in New York City. And to have it be with so many of my friends and Dr. Dosman makes it so much more.”