washington dc

18SS + MVHS = ♫

We have our email address listed on our website, so it’s probably not too surprising to hear we get a lot of email. While most of them come from relatives of deposed dictators requesting our banking information, every once in a while a message comes through that makes sifting through special offers for herbal supplements worth it. This particular story starts with one such email we received last fall from Brett Taylor in Orem, UT.

Brett is better known as Mr. Taylor to the teenage population of Orem, where he directs the choirs at Mountain View High School. It’s fair to say that MVHS likes to sing: nearly 25% of the students there sing in one of the six choirs Brett conducts. The top choirs get to head out on tour during spring break, and this year they came to Washington, D.C. Their itinerary included some pretty cool stops, like a performance at Mount Vernon and a tour of the White House, but Brett also wanted to connect with a group in DC’s thriving choral scene.

So out of all the choirs in DC, why did Brett reach out to us? As it turns out, Brett had used our recording of Windham by Daniel Read as an example for his choirs on how to sing early American music! Needless to say, this was a connection we had to make.

The MVHS choirs showed up at our home base, First Trinity Lutheran Church, on a Friday night in April. In true choir tour form, all 150 of them in matching bright red t-shirts. It was actually a perfect fashion choice: it was the same night as a Capitals game at the Verizon Center just a few blocks away, so they fit right in with the hockey fans.

The evening started off with both Brett and our director Ben leading a few warmups. We tend to come back to our favorite many times throughout a season, so it was fun to learn a few more to add to our rotation.

Two of the MVHS groups performed first, and boy could they sing. They didn’t choose simple music either; selections included Rheinberger’s Abendlied, an arrangement of one of 18SS’ favorite spirituals Deep River, Pentatonix’s original song Run To You, and the classic American tune Down in the River to Pray. Justin, our resident German scholar, gave them a few pointers on their pronunciation in the Rheinberger, but their singing earned universal praise. Their accompanist did appreciate the note that you should look joyful while you’re singing!

We then took the stage, singing a somewhat ironic pair of songs that we will perform at our 10th Anniversary Concert on June 20. Why ironic? Sleep by Eric Whitacre was followed by I Do Not Sleep by our own Jess Yeatermeyer. No offense to Eric, but I Do Not Sleep was the crowd favorite. A group of MVHS students found Jess at the end of the night to get the sheet music, and they performed it last week at their final concert of the school year!

MVHS’ third and largest choir performed last, singing Victoria’s double choir dynamo Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. Renaissance polyphony this dense usually comes with the warning ”Don’t Try This At Home”, but these kids absolutely nailed it. Crisp rhythms, interplay between the choirs, totally synchronized cadences - they had it all.

We wrapped up the night by combining forces and teaching all of MVHS’ singers the South African carol Hloholonofatsa. They caught on quick, and it was a truly joyous way to end this incredible event.

It was a true pleasure to share our music and story with such a talented group of high school students. The founding members of the 18th Street Singers weren’t all that much older than our visitors when they first started singing together ten years ago. Hopefully we demonstrated to the choirs of MVHS that you can keep making high-quality music with your friends after graduating from school, and that starting your own choir is the perfect way to do it!

This post was written by the 18th Street Singers managing director, Henry Clapp