From the Methacton High School auditorium to New York City’s Lincoln Center, one of the community’s own will soon don the stages with his name in lights, just like he’d always hoped. He’s come a long way from “The Little Mermaid.”
Jamison Barrett, of Collegeville, a 2010 Methacton graduate, will perform the New York premiere of James Whitbourn's “Annelies”, the first major choral setting of famed book “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as a member of the Westminster Williamson Voices on Saturday, April 26 at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center.
Barrett said he has always been involved with music, starting with “covers of The Little Mermaid” when he was just in kindergarten.
“I didn't start seriously studying voice until high school because my initial focus was the violin,” he said. “I've always been involved with music, starting the violin through Methacton School District in third grade, then joined my elementary school orchestra and choir. I later participated in PMEA [Pennsylvania Music Educators Association] district, region, and all-state choirs, musicals, large-scale, and chamber ensembles (both vocal and instrumental) throughout middle and high school.”
Barrett will now be working with songs, which were recently nominated for the 2013 Grammy for “Best Choral Performance.” That had a lot to do with those signing it. Barrett is a student at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, N.J., where the Westminster Williamson Voices is one of eight student choirs.
“The 40-voice ensemble has quickly established itself as a voice of composers of our time and has been acclaimed for its creative programming and collaborations with other art forms,” said Anne Sears, communications coordinator for Rider University.
Westminster Choir College is a division of Rider University's Westminster College of the Arts.
“A professional college of music with a unique choral emphasis, Westminster prepares students at the undergraduate and graduate levels for careers in teaching, sacred music and performance,” said Sears.
“Westminster Choir College is the music school of Rider University, but the two are located on separate campuses, with Westminster having its own campus in Princeton,” said Barrett. “A choir college is exactly what you'd initially think it is, an almost purely vocal musical institution. It was founded as the Westminster Choir School for the choir of Dayton Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio moved locations over time before finally finding its home in Princeton.”
Barrett said this is the place to study vocal music.
“We're renowned for our choirs, all of which are outstanding ensembles,” he said. “The institution is special because it is the only one of its kind in the world, and our choirs often perform with the world's foremost orchestras regularly. I've had the opportunity to sing with Andrea Bocelli in Central Park with the New York Philharmonic, sing Verdi's Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center, recorded a Grammy-nominated album, and have sung at Carnegie Hall three times in my career at Westminster.”
Though he has come a long way from the Methacton stage, he said his work in the area helped him to become the musician he is today.
“My experiences in the music department there definitely contributed to my getting into the choir because the Methacton music department, in conjunction with PMEA, helped me to understand myself as a musician and helped me to recognize my talents which ultimately led me to Westminster,” said Barrett.
It was no walk in the park to get where he is today. Barrett said it took a lot of preparation to audition and obtain such a role.
“The audition for Williamson occurs at the beginning of the academic year,” he explained. “We prepare a piece we've been working on and sing it for a panel of Westminster's conducting faculty. Next, the pianist will play pitch memory exercises, where we have to sing back. These exercises typically include difficult intervals to sing. Then, we're presented a ‘sight-singing’ excerpt. This excerpt is something we're given on the spot and expected to sing after being given the first pitch.”
Barrett said it doesn’t end there.
“If we're called back for the choir, the call-back is typically a sight reading of a musical work of the conductor's choice and he mixes and matches us to try to find the sectional sound he's looking for based on our musicianship, ability to blend, etc.,” he
After all it took to get to this point, Barrett is thrilled to be a part of such a major production in New York City.
“I can't wait until the performance. I've been living with this work for two years now,” he said. “We originally performed it in Princeton and recorded it just a few months later. It was then released and nominated for a Grammy for Best Choral Performance.”
He said the show is not to be missed.
“It's extremely exciting for me to be able to bring ‘Annelies’ back to life this weekend, especially in such an amazing space,” said Barrett. “Bringing back ‘Annelies’ has felt like visiting an old friend.”
The experience has been a great opportunity for the Collegeville resident.
“It's really indescribable from a musical standpoint,” said Barrett of his role. “I've performed a few U.S. and world premieres in my time here. Being in a premiere is both extremely exciting and absolutely terrifying, but mostly the former.”
He said it is a particular challenge to bring such a well-known work of art like this book.
“This particular work, an oratorio based on ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ brings Anne's story back to life sonically,” said Barrett. “It's a very emotionally-taxing work to sing because the singers have to be able to find a deep emotional place within themselves in order to honestly relate to the tragic story. I'm extremely excited to be able to perform the work in a new city and to a new audience.”
Depsite the challenging nature, he is thrilled to be in the production of “Annelies.”
“The work explores and tells Anne's story from the beginning of their escape into hiding up to her capture and transfer to Bergen-Belsen,” said Barrett of the musical. “The musical setting of the diary tells more of the story than the diary itself does. The premiere is a huge musical event, especially because this work is the only instance in which the text of Anne Frank's diary have been allowed to be set to music. All I can really say is that it feels like I'm living a dream.”