Local choir headed to Carnegie Hall

By Joseph Slacian

Jack Benny once quipped, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.”

A group of local young women are doing just that, preparing for a March 17 choir performance in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

The choir, the Wabash Community Women’s Choir, is under the direction of former Wabash High School choir director Emily France. It is made up of 20 young women between 14 and 23 years of age.

France told The Paper of Wabash County that she was approached in the fall of 2017 by her former choir teacher at St. Mary’s College, Nancy Menk, about bringing a woman’s choir to be part of the choir composed of about 250 women from around the country.

The concert is taking place to mark St. Mary’s 175th anniversary and Menk’s 35th year at the Notre Dame-based college.
France said she spoke with WHS Principal Kyle Weiland about possibly taking a choir to the event, and he said there was a good possibility it could be done. However, France later resigned from the school for personal reasons, and thought the trip would not happen.

“I wasn’t able to take a group through the high school because I wasn’t teaching there anymore,” she said.

She contacted the concert promoter – Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and told them that that since she resigned, she wouldn’t be able to bring a choir. Her contact at DCINY urged her to consider forming a choir made up of community members.

France recalled, “Kind of jokingly she said, ‘You can call it Emily’s Singers. It doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to reach out to alum from St. Mary’s to sing at this event with Dr. Menk.’”

But then, another obstacle cropped up. It is going to cost about $1,200 per girl to travel to New York City.

“I’m thinking there is no way I’m going to be able to do this,” she said. “I can’t raise these funds. That’s over $25,000.”
France and her husband, Brandon, had friends over one evening and the topic of the choir came up.

“They contacted me the next day and said, ‘Hey, if we give you $5,000 to get you started, would that be enough to get the deposit down so you could move forward with it?” she recalled. “That just got the ball rolling.”

And thus, the Wabash Community Women’s Choir was born.

France made a list of young women she had worked with while at Wabash and Southwood high schools, and also through Vocal Impact.

“I just made a tentative list of girls who I knew were capable and responsible, that I could take them with me to New York City and wouldn’t have to worry about their conduct or anything like that,” she said, adding that she wanted the girls to realize what an honor it would be to perform at Carnegie Hall and not just see the event as “just a trip to New York City.”

“It is quite an honor just to be invited to perform in New York,” said Dr. Jonathan Griffith, artistic director and principal conductor for DCINY. “These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community. This is an event of extreme pride for everybody and deserving of the community’s recognition and support.”

Since the fall of 2018 the choir has been rehearsing weekly at the Woman’s Clubhouse.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘I didn’t even know we had this choir,’” France said. “I honest to goodness just formed it so that I could give this opportunity to the 20 girls. It wasn’t a choir. It was nothing like Vocal Impact, where I sat down and planned it out.

“I just reached out to girls that I knew could do it, and girls, too, who I knew would appreciate the experience. It was formed specifically for this, but I’ve actually had people reach out, now that they know we’re doing this, and say, ‘Hey, I would be interested in doing a women’s choir if you kept that going.

“It may be something that we continue after this year. But right now, we’re just focused on the March performance.”

The girls were asked to pay $500 toward the trip, and France has been busily working to collect the remaining funds.

“I’ve just been working and working and working to raise funds to cover the rest of it,” she said, noting that another $9,000 is needed to cover the expenses.

During the concert at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium, the 250-member choir will perform six pieces, mostly comprised of sacred music.

“They’re all, obviously, for women’s voices,” Frances said of the music. “The music is so difficult. Most of the girls in high school, you don’t deal with this sort of music. We have all women’s choruses in our high schools, but not women’s choruses that sing in four and six parts. So, it’s really very, very challenging.
“I’m excited for that reason because it gives them a taste of what else is out there beside what they are working on in school.”

In addition to preparing the local young women for the show, France also will be performing in the concert as part of a St. Mary’s alumni choir.

“When I started Vocal Impact, I used to tell the kids, ‘You never know. Maybe someday we’ll be on the Carnegie Hall stage.’ Not in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that we would get to do this. I’m kind of speechless right now because I’m in the throes of preparing for it. That’s really a once in a lifetime thing.”

The community will get a chance to see the choir perform during a preview concert at 7 p.m. March 3 at the Honeywell Center’s Honeywell Room.

“The idea for that is the community will get to see the girls who are going,” France said. “They will be singing, not the songs we’re going to be doing at the concert, but they’ll be doing a variety of Broadway songs.”

While the concert is free, the group will be asking for freewill donations from those attending to help offset expenses.

Anyone interested in donating to the trip may contact France at 765-517-2176 or via email at

Posted on 2019 Feb 05