Carnegie Hall next stop for local a capella choir

Eric Morse –

Around the outer wall of the nave of St Simon the Apostle’s Church, around 130 people join hands and sing “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles. For the newcomer, an unexpected moment, an exalted moment.
But every 2-hour rehearsal ends that way for the 10-year-old newchoir (sic), now on its way to a March 29 14-choir all-a capella engagement at Carnegie Hall, organized by Distinguished Concerts International and hosted and conducted by Deke Sharon, music supervisor for the 2012 comedy film “Pitch Perfect” and a pioneer of modern a capella singing.

The night that The Bulletin attended rehearsal was also the night that artistic director Scott Pietrangelo, speaking live via assistant director Donavan LeNabet’s mobile from a directing engagement in Moose Jaw, broke the hot news that they had just been chosen to sing the feature number—“Waiting for the World to Change” by John Mayer—at the New York concert. The newchoir was to have had eight numbers, and now there are nine. Pietrangelo also told an awe-stricken group that five of them, Jennifer MacGregor, Gale Delaney, Alison Eastwood, Mike Winestock and Erin Tancock, would have solos in “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
“I’m speechless,” said Winestock, who has been with the choir for five years.

“It validates all the times I’ve been told I’m a singer!” adds Eastwood, a 2-year veteran.

That evening the choir had been rehearsing “Wanna be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson also arranged for a capella choir by Deke Sharon. It is not a simple number—eight parts—and this was the first time they had tackled it en masse.

Of the full choir of 160 (130 will go to New York), only about half read music, Pietrangelo told The Bulletin in a phone interview.

That isn’t a problem, he says, because the singers have sectional rehearsals and are fully equipped with digital training tools for home practice. They can go from first having heard a piece to performance quality in about four months—but they are usually learning about 25 pieces at once. Pietrangelo says that aside from the scheduled rehearsals and sectional practices, a singer should be doing about three to four hours of home study per week.

“But it tends to be a bit less toward the beginning and a lot more when we get scared,” an anonymous alto adds.

“It’s so incredibly different from Baroque, which is the musical background I came from,” says Downtowner Tish Mancini, who joined newchoir five years ago along with her husband Chris Shockley. “But it’s incredibly uplifting.”

This writer recalls having once been told by the director of the Red Army Chorus that, according to Soviet musical doctrine, 80 singers is the maximum number for a vocal ensemble.

“When you have 160 voices, diction becomes really important,” Pietrangelo answers.

Pietrangelo was born into a musical family, and recalls that his first professional appearance was at the age of 9 in the Hal Prince production of Showboat in the mid ‘90s. He has worked in musical theatre ever since, and was appointed director of newchoir in 2010. “It plays right into my strengths as a musician.”

The week before leaving, newchoir will give one pay-what-you-can performance of their New York repertoire for family and friends at Metropolitan United Church at 8 pm on March 22.

For more information about newchoir, visit