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One Week in April

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  One week in April
Tenor Robert Szustak, B.A. ’04, shares his experiences as part of a student trip to perform at Carnegie Hall

During my bus ride to New York City, I passionately recorded each emotion I felt, while my peers prepared to settle in for the long ride (16 hours total).

Last April, at our request, Robert Szustak, B.A. ’04, obligingly maintained a diary of his trip to Carnegie Hall, snapping photos along the way. Szustak was in New York to perform Verdi’s Requiem with 100 members of the UB Choir and Chorus, along with members of the Westchester Oratorio Society, the Canticum Novum Singers and the New York Virtuoso Singers with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, all under the direction of Harold Rosenbaum, UB director of choirs. Though busy keeping track of numerous concert details as Rosenbaum’s assistant, Szustak found time to record the exuberance and pride of performing a choral masterwork in an incomparable setting.

Wednesday April 7, 2004
The energy of rehearsal this afternoon was amazing! The anticipation of the “main event” is running through our veins. Our focus strays a bit here and there, but our deliverance of the power of the piece is phenomenal. With only one week until our performance, it is really starting to register that we are performing one of the most dramatic choral works in the most dramatic of venues.

Carnegie Hall!!!

Of course, we still have a few rehearsals remaining, but we did it! We have conquered Verdi’s Requiem. What a powerful feeling …

Thursday April 8, 2004
We just had a fantastic combined rehearsal of the UB choir and chorus. As I left rehearsal I almost felt as though I were dreaming. Could that really have been our last rehearsal until we get to NYC next week? The power and excitement will undoubtedly carry us through our performance.

Each of us seemed to have the “jitters” as we hammered out our final details for our trip. The questions came flooding in as we spoke of concert dress and travel and housing arrangements. The bottom line, though, is that we are all excited and ready to deliver the final product at our performance. How magnificent it will sound when we join the other singers and the full, professional orchestra.

Conductor Rosenbaum and I pose for the camera before the main event. A few of my peers and I gather for a quick group photo, while soprano Amy Martin styles her hair before changing into formal concert attire.

Monday April 12, 2004
It is now the night before the big trip. I can hardly sit still thinking about everything I still need to do to be prepared for my brief voyage. On top of that, I have received tons of calls from my colleagues about last-minute concerns:

“Bow ties or long ties?”

“What should I bring my host?”

“Where’s the best place to buy a black folder?”

The questions are endless! I’m always happy to help, though.

I just can’t believe that I am only a half-day away from leaving! Baird Hall (our point of departure) should be an interesting scene at 5:30 a.m. I trust that there will be a lot of sleeping on the bus. I can’t imagine that many of us will actually sleep tonight. I know that I’ll have a difficult time doing so.

Tuesday April 13, 2004
We’re on the bus and it is ridiculously early! Most are asleep, others are spacing out, and others are just sitting quietly.

We have one student stranded in Buffalo who has no idea what to do. Hopefully, we will be able to work out this problem. It’s 7 a.m., we’re traveling along and the sun is now rising. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the day progresses.

11:45 a.m. So now it’s nearly afternoon and we have only a few hours to go. As surprising as it is, a lot of my peers are doing their homework. Ha ha! Even trips to NYC have to be studious occasions for some. I brought books, but so far they have been for show. The bus remains calm, save for the hideous noise of the film Underworld. We’re almost there, though. More to follow ...

11 p.m. On the eve of the concert after an amazing rehearsal with all of the chorus and the orchestra, it’s hard to think that less than 24 hours from now this will all be a dream. I’m so excited, yet very tired. We had some time this afternoon to explore, so we trekked into the rainy streets and found a place to eat. We then returned to Riverside Church—located only a few blocks from Columbia University—for our incredible rehearsal. How awesome to finally hear everyone! We got to hear the soloists sing too. Could it be that we’re really performing in Carnegie Hall tomorrow? Verdi’s magnificent Requiem will definitely be a piece that stays in our hearts forever.

By the way, the stranded student made it! It’s “yahoo” for excessive highway speeds.

Wednesday April 14, 2004
The big day!!!

After a great start with a full breakfast made for us by our wonderful hosts (my own hosts were Bob and Liz McDonald), Andy, Dan and I started early. We hopped on a train in the quaint town of Katonah, New York, and expect to arrive at Grand Central Station around 11:15 a.m. We are all eager to spend some time in “The Big Apple” before a brief rehearsal on the stage of Carnegie Hall at 5:30 p.m. The excitement of being on stage is almost too much to handle. At least being in the city for a few hours will relieve some of the jitters.

7:30 p.m. I don’t have much time, but we just stepped off the stage from rehearsal. Only one word can describe what it feels like to be on stage—


One thing is certain, though—we’re all a little nervous as we’re about to line up. All around me choristers are fixing their hair, reading over parts of their music, making sure bow ties are straight, etc.—

Time to line up ...Here we go!!!!

11:30 p.m. A little over one hour ago, along with my peers, I stepped off the stage of the most magnificent concert hall in the world. Conductor Rosenbaum spoke with us just before the bus departed from the stage door of Carnegie on 56th Street. He told us that the performance was one of the highlights of his career. He received a huge applause from us, which he then returned. All of our hard work finally paid off. I’m still in awe of the magnitude of what we all just experienced. Even now, as I sit here on a very much-energized bus of my peers, the hair on my arm stands on end and I get goose bumps. I will never, ever forget this feeling as long as I live. The stage of Carnegie in every way—the way it looks, the way it feels—will be burned into memory. What an emotionally charged adventure this has been. Even now, as I am sure I will always feel, I need to catch my breath as I think of what was performed onstage. My heart is incredibly overjoyed, and I am almost in tears as I think about the journey to Carnegie and the ultimate culmination. I have been so involved in the aspects of this performance, not only as one of Conductor Rosenbaum’s vocalists, but also as his assistant. What an incredible feat.

I better stop now. My hands are starting to shake again as I realize what just occurred in my life. How amazing!

Thursday April 15, 2004
I’m home now, and as I reflect I realize that words will never quite do justice to the wonderful experience I just had. I will never be able to fully describe the feeling of standing on the stage of Carnegie Hall in enough words. The lights—the way the concert hall looks and feels. If I close my eyes I still can feel like I’m there. The adjective that comes to mind the most and truly highlights the feeling is “breathtaking.” I will always remember Carnegie for as long as I live. I only hope that I can perform there again, but if I ever want to remember it, all I have to do is close my eyes.

Robert James Szustak, B.A. ’04, is an M.A. student in the English department at UB. Szustak performed in the UB Choir all four years of his undergraduate education, appearing frequently as a soloist. Szustak also performs with Western New York’s male a cappella group, “The Lake Effect.” He is the son of Adrienne and Richard Szustak of Hamburg, New York.

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