Friday, December 31, 2010

From the Mount Washington Valley to the Big Apple

 N.H. singing group becomes first amateur group to perform at Radio City Music Hall

“Oh my God, they were the singers,” Jean Suter, of Long Island, N.Y., said as the members of Alpenglow took their seats in front of her after performing as the opening act from the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 28. “I feel so special to be sitting behind you.”

Alpenglow, a group of singers from the Mount Washington Valley area of New Hampshire, won the Dove Hair Care Brush with Greatness Sing4All contest, which included an all-expenses-paid trip to New York and the opportunity to become the first amateur choir group to sing at New York's historic Radio City Music Hall.

“It definitely sounded right,” Antulio Arroyo, events supervisor at Radio City, told the group after a backstage tour of the music hall.

The group, which consists of Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, Emilie Jensen, a senior at Kennett High School, Matt Stoker, a junior a Fryeburg Academy, Taylor Hill, a senior at Kennett, twin brother and sister Liam and Mae Van Rossum, eighth graders at Bartlett Elementary School, and Abby Miller, a sophomore at Kennett and a private voice student of Bastoni-Rebmann, sang “My Favorite Things” and “Winter Wonderland” just before the 8 p.m. performance featuring the Rockettes.

“My childhood has been completely amazingified,” Jensen said of the experience. “This day has been like nothing in my entire life. I'm still in shock, basically. I don't even know how to express everything that has happened.”

Jensen has good reason not to be able to find the words to describe the experience. Radio City Music Hall is a city landmark and one of the most recognizable theaters in the world. The Christmas Spectacular, which dates back to 1932, remains the theater's crown jewel.

“It was amazing. It was more than you could ask for,” Miller said. “The stage was just amazing. It was huge, and just looking out you just felt the best that you possibly could.”

The snow storm that arrived Sunday, just days before their New York debut, nearly prevented the members of Alpenglow from having that feeling. The group was scheduled to fly out Monday, Dec. 27, at 6 a.m. If the group members hadn't left earlier they would have missed the performance.

“I was online and on the phone all afternoon, evening, into the night on Christmas tracking the weather and letting the rest of the group know what was going on,” said Keith Force, who shot and entered the required video of the group into the contest.

When group members were unable to get in touch with their contact at Dove, they took it upon themselves to make their own ways to New York. Miraculously, everyone managed to beat the storm — much to the surprise of Dove, which had nearly written them off.

"Dove was very pleased that we made the decision to come early as it was a weekend and the office was closed," Bastoni-Rebmann said, "The weather did not deter this group."

Everyone agreed stepping out on that stage and looking out into the audience was a special moment that made all the extra effort to get there and the hard work leading up to the performance well worth it.

“It was definitely a much needed reward,” Hill said. "We worked so hard so finally being able to do all that and getting that reaction from the audience was awesome.”

The group received a hearty applause from the audience after each song, and it was gratifying for everyone in the group to see the audience enjoying the performance.

“We saw people in the back dancing, and we looked up into the balconies and everyone was just having such a great time,” Stoker said. “I think it made us feel more comfortable on stage. We just did what we did and it was absolutely incredible. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Alpenglow has only been in existence since Nov. 17 and formed specifically for the contest, which required them to submit a video of them performing Rodgers and Hammerstein's “My Favorite Things.”

“That is very impressive,” Rockette Amy Ling said of the short amount of time the group has been together. “Their voices jell very well. It was very pure.”

Alpenglow didn't reach that level overnight. It was a developed process that included warm-up performances in the valley.

“We had a few experiences up to this point performing live in front of audiences in North Conway and Jackson,” Rebmann said. “I think that was great for them to have those stepping stones, so that they got comfortable as a group to perform in an environment where you never know how it is going to go.”

For Bastoni-Rebmann, as great as the experience of gracing the Radio City Music Hall stage was she was more taken by the poise and confidence that the kids in the group displayed in such a huge moment.

“I was more involved with how the kids responded and watched them stay centered,” Rebmann said. “They were performers first and a performing family first, and they didn't let the distractions of the excitement take them away.”

Bastoni-Rebmann couldn't stress enough how impressed she was that the kids didn't allow themselves to get taken away by the external stuff and that they stayed focus.

“I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” Hill said. “I've used this word so many times on this trip, but it was really surreal and I think I was trying to soak it all in before it was over and it was a lot of fun.”

Hill wasn't the only member in the group surprised to see that nerves didn't get the best of them.

“I was a lot less nervous than I thought I'd be,” Mae Van Rossum said. “I thought
I'd be shaking and stuff, but I wasn't. Lucky me.”

Mae's brother, Liam, was a bit scared about going on stage and performing to an audience of thousands, but stayed in the moment.

“I was frightened and all but I pulled through it,” Liam said. “I'm just really overjoyed. I am so lucky that Mary chose me to do this because she could've picked anybody for the cast, but she picked me. It was great.”

It was actually the unexpected TV interviews for Fox 5 in New York and Entertainment Tonight that had some of the group members more rattled.

"Those (interviews) were nerve-racking,” Hill said. "I didn't like those. I mean, I'm sure if I am ever able to do something like this again I'll be more trained and I'll be more use to it, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it was awesome.”

Joining them for the interviews was Idina Menzel, the official spokesperson for the contest, who  video conferenced with the group during the voting period of the contest. Her appearance before the show was kept secret from the group.

“We met her at the studio and so we showed up and 'Oh there's that lady from Dove from the other day and she brought Idina with her, whoa',” Liam Van Rossum said. “I didn't even realize she was in the room. She is a real great person. She had a wonderful personality.”

Menzel, who was in the original casts of “Rent” and “Wicked” and has a recurring role on the TV show “Glee,” reiterated the advice she had previously given the group and encouraged them to attempt to further reach their potential.

“Meeting Idina, such a huge celebrity on Broadway, and having her input on what we do and having her tell us we can go far and that we just need to reel it in and live in the moment was absolutely incredible,” Stoker said.

In addition to performing on stage, Alpenglow performed in the lobby before the show and gave a private performance of “Winter Wonderland” to a couple of the Rockettes in Radio City's Roxy Suite.

“They were wonderful,” Rockette Amy Lenhardt said. “I was really, really impressed.”

And the feeling was mutual from the group, particularly from Jensen, who has been a dancer for 11 years.

“I love the Rockettes,” Jensen said. “They are so great, the precision is just ridiculous. I'd love to be one, but sadly I'm not tall enough, but they have the technique that is just precise and so perfect. I love it, I love every second of it.”

And all it goes back to Dove Hair Care, of all things, for allowing this amazing opportunity to happen. The origin of the contest came from wanting to expand upon an ad campaign that featured the song “My Favorite Things.”

“We came up with this idea of wouldn't it be fun to look for America's next best glee club and do something grassroots and start from the ground up and place this contest,” Michael Bordainick, marketing manager on Dove Hair Care, said.

The scale of the contest was small. Alpenglow won with only 7,026 votes, but Dove wasn't expecting millions of votes.

“Everything you do can't be huge,” Bordainick said. “You can't have the same scale of something like 'Glee,' so we knew this would be smaller, but it isn't necessarily any less impactful for the people you touch. I think for us it was about being more impactful for a select group of people over being less impactful for a larger group.”

Dove got more than expected with Alpenglow and is happy with the way things turned out.

“They are even better live than watching the video,” Bordainick said.

Alpenglow is grateful to Dove for the opportunity. Thanks to Dove and the supportive Mount Washington Valley community whose votes made the win possible, the members of Alpenglow are now part of the 78-year-old legacy of Radio City Music Hall. That's a Christmas gift that will last for years to come.

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