November 24, 2020

Chamber Singers perform with Josh Groban

Backstage at the Peabody Opera House, the Webster University Chamber Singers stood in a room with eager anticipation.  They knew at any moment, a major singer-songwriter they were slated to perform with would walk in. There was a moment of disappointment with each random person walking into the room.

“And then, all of a sudden, there he was,”  Chamber Singers Director Trent Patterson said.

In walked singer-songwriter Josh Groban.

The Chamber Singers took the stage at the Peabody Opera House October 19 to perform with Groban during his sold-out concert.  The choral group gave backing vocals on the songs “Anthem” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

“It was pretty much a cold call (or a call that came out of nowhere),”  Chamber Singers Director Trent Patterson said.

The cold call came from a contractor for Groban’s tour, who was in charge of finding ensembles that would be the perfect fit for the concerts.  

The common thing done on the Groban’s tour was that the piece before the intermission and the piece before the encore included a choir, accompanied by an orchestra made up of local musicians.

“Either through word of mouth or some kind of contact, this contractor heard of our work,”  Patterson said.  “It is not necessarily university choirs that are being asked.  In some cities, it might be a professional choir for that matter.”

The deal was set and the Chamber Singers would perform with Groban.


Half of the equation

The Chamber Singers rehearsed their parts for the concert with Groban’s music director the afternoon of the concert.  However, they did not rehearse with Groban himself.  The singers only met with Groban for around five minutes for pictures and a small conversation.

“Apparently, in some of the cities, he sometimes comes out during the soundcheck to do a song with the choir,”  Patterson said.  “That did not happen here.”

Rehearsals before that afternoon were done with Groban’s prerecorded material.  The formal rehearsal with the orchestra was “a little shaky,” according to Chamber Singers President Cameron White.

“It was hard to sing the back ups without the main vocal,” White said.

As President of the Chamber Singers, White acts as facilitator between Patterson and the singers, making sure ideas from both sides are heard.

“It is such a privilege because it is such a great group and I had really great presidents come before me,” White said.

White said going out on stage without having rehearsed with Groban made the experience more interesting.

“There was that nervous energy of knowing it is a big deal and not wanting to mess up on such a big concert,” White said.  “But, there was a lot of positive energy because, in the end, we were getting to sing with him.”

White said “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was the more difficult of the two songs to perform because it was harder find when the choir would come in.

“When we would come in, it was not on words,” White said.  “It was on the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.”

White said the environment Josh Groban set on the stage was the main difference between the other stages the singers have performed on.  He said the atmosphere is relaxing and conducive to his music.

“Through my time, I have performed on a lot of different stages so you just get into the habit of singing a certain way,”  White said. “The atmosphere he had set up, the layout of the stage, the type of audience he had differentiated it for me… The audience was definitely receptive of him, but also of us when he introduced us before ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.”

White said the experience really taught him about the challenges professional touring musicians face, such as coming into performances and venues and not having the time to get used to the stage.

“There wouldn’t be time to figure things out,”  White said.  “You just have to come and know.  We have definitely been taught that, but experiencing it is going to be more impactful.”

Patterson said as a director, he learned a lot about the behind the scenes angle of a big show like that, seeing the show from backstage rather than from the audience’s perspective.

“I was in the wings backstage checking in with the stage managers, checking in and making sure the singers were ready to go out on cue,”  Patterson said.  “There was a certain amount of nervousness and anticipation.”

Patterson said the performance reinforces the work ethic the Chamber Singers have demonstrated the past several years and how others are noticing it.  The Chamber Singers have been asked to perform at important conferences and events and have released a CD funded completely by raised funds, donation and contributions.

“We’ve accomplished enough things musically and developed enough of a reputation here in town that we were the logical people to get the call,”  Patterson said.  “Hard work is rewarded with amazing opportunities such as this.”


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