The combined choruses of Los Angeles Harbor and Compton colleges will perform Mozart's "Requiem" today in Hermosa Beach.
But as the 64 singers fill St. Cross Episcopal Church with music, some will be savoring memories about singing the same work just two months ago at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The occasion was a showcase of community college choruses in which 29 singers from Harbor and 19 from Compton joined nearly 250 others from across the country to perform the "Requiem" with professional soloists and the Manhattan Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ginny Thorrens of the Harbor College Chorale in Wilmington said that singing on the Carnegie Hall stage was "the greatest thrill of my life. I'll talk about it forever."
"You dream of Carnegie Hall all your life," said Harbor's John Moody, adding that the theater is justly famous for its acoustics. "Carnegie Hall sounds alive. . . . It's what sound can be."
The ensembles at the schools include full-time students and others who register for the chorus class because they love to sing.
When the two choruses were invited last spring to take part in the Nov. 25 concert, the singers were surprised. Carnegie Hall has been home to the world's greatest musicians since Tchaikovsky conducted its opening concert 100 years ago.
Compton College Choir Director Evangeline Seward was so incredulous that she threw the initial invitation letter away. "Considering who sings in Carnegie Hall, I thought it was a mistake. . . . I said if it's true, they'll get back to me."
It was and they did.
The concert was produced by MidAmerica Productions Inc., which brings the best college singers to New York City and sells tickets to the performances. The Mozart piece was the finale to the November concert, with Haydn's "Lord Nelson Mass" preceding it.
In all, nearly 500 singers from 16 community college choruses performed one or the other of the works. The only other California community college represented was Sacramento City College.
Susanne Aultz, who directs the Harbor College Chorale, said the invitation was a special honor because the choruses selected by the production company are recommended by other choral directors.
Despite the honor, the expense of the trip means that not everyone is able to accept. Harbor and Compton singers held a variety of fund-raisers to help raise $900 each for those who couldn't afford the five-day trip. The two choruses also spent months working on their music.
"It was a challenge to us, performing Mozart and in Latin," said Compton singer Denine Perry. Rehearsals sometimes lasted six hours, she said. In early November, singers from both colleges rehearsed for a day in Compton with Will Kesling, who conducted the Carnegie Hall performance.
On the big night, the formally dressed singers looked out on a near-capacity audience in the famous hall with its red seats and gold decoration. Said Thorrens: "It was awesome to think that ordinary people could be on a stage where the greats of the world have performed."
Adrian Davis of the Compton choir called it "a spiritual experience. . . . There were all these voices to make a beautiful sound." Harbor's Emilia Bailey said "it was like a dream."
The singers went to New York to make music but also found time to visit the Empire State Building and St. Patrick's Cathedral. They visited museums, took in concerts and Broadway shows and shopped in stores festively decorated for Christmas.
One evening, the group took a New York Harbor cruise and sang patriotic songs as they passed the Statue of Liberty. "I got goose bumps," Davis said. "I felt what the immigrants must have felt when they saw the statue."
But mostly the singers talk about being on stage at Carnegie Hall. "It gave me such a feeling that I've made it to something," said Perry. "I'll tell my grandchildren about it. . . . All that we worked for was worth it, the sweat and tears."
Aultz said the choruses chose the Mozart "Requiem" because 1991 is the bicentennial of the composer's death. She called today's Hermosa Beach performance--at 3:30 p.m. at St. Cross, 1818 Monterey Blvd.--a way of "getting a jump on everyone else" in celebrating the anniversary. Soloists will be Felicia Ford, soprano; Christine Leong, mezzo; Bill Allen George, tenor, and Brian Boos, bass baritone. Ty Woodward will be organist. A $5 donation will be asked.