In a strange bit of generational musical chairs, members of the Deering High School Chorus spent time Tuesday preparing to sing with Foreigner, one of the hot rock bands of their parents’ teen years.

Half of the group’s 26 members admitted that they’d never heard of the classic rock group as they stood in Room 224 after school comparing their various levels of knowledge. Several said the group’s name didn’t ring a bell, but the songs did. And many said their parents knew all about Foreigner and were more than willing to share what they know.

“My mom had worked as a DJ, so she informed me about the band,” said senior Catherine York, 17. “I didn’t think I knew them. But once I heard the songs, I knew I had heard them before.”

The chorus will sing backup on the 1984 ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is” when Foreigner performs a sold-out show at the State Theatre next Tuesday. They rehearsed for half an hour on Tuesday. Wearing the black T-shirts they’ll wear on stage, they sang along to a blaring rendition of the hit song while swaying and holding their arms up. Their part in the show is about a minute long, mostly repeating the title lyrics.

They also practiced walking onto the stage in order according to height. Chorus director Gilbert Peltola reminded the singers often that they need to smile on stage in front of the big crowd. He did this by stretching his own smile out with his hand.

Even if they don’t know all the words to hits like “Cold As Ice” or “Double Vision,” chorus members said Tuesday they know this is a major musical coup.

They’ll be singing with a band that had 16 Top 30 singles from 1977 to 1987 and sold 80 million albums. Plus they’ll be singing to a sold-out crowd of 1,800 folks who paid $45 to $75 for their seat.

And for some students, they’ll be performing with a band their parents love.

“My parents always play a lot of Foreigner. When I told my dad we were singing with them, it was completely unreal. He didn’t believe me,” said Olivia Ryan, 16, and a junior. “Foreigner was like this big deal in my house.”

Anthony Cavallaro was excited when he found about singing with Foreigner. He was one of the few chorus members who actually had heard of the band. But his mother, Nancy Cavallaro, didn’t think he was excited enough.

“I was standing with some other parents when (chorus members) told us they were singing with Foreigner, and we said, ‘You guys don’t realize how good Foreigner is,’ ” said Cavallaro, an accountant. “We told them that we’d want to hear them sing anyway, but with Foreigner we really want to go.”

A half-dozen parents will help chaperone the group, but it’s unclear how many others will see the show since it’s been sold out for weeks.

Foreigner invites choruses to sing with them as a chance to promote music education, and contributes $500 to the participating chorus. Besides getting $500 for their group, the Deering students will sell Foreigner CDs at the State Theatre, with proceeds going to the music education fund of the Grammy Foundation.

“The kids we’ve had on stage are great. We’ve had some that are really confident leading up to the show, then on stage they go into shrinking violet mode,” said Tom Gimbel, the band’s saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist since 1992. “But stage fright is very normal in that situation.”

Deering’s chorus was picked at random. Foreigner’s management made a list of local high schools and Deering happened to be first on the list. The chorus has been rehearsing weekly by singing along with videos of other high school groups who’ve sung with the band. The Deering group’s only role in the show is to walk on stage a couple minutes into the song and sing. They won’t meet the band before or after.

Most of the teens in the chorus weren’t aware that the incarnation of Foreigner coming to Portland was re-formed in 2004 and only includes one original member, founder and guitarist Mick Jones.

Still, performing with a band that’s still on the radio all the time, including on their parents’ car radios, has got to be a little nerve-wracking.

“I think nerves will be a factor,” said sophomore Anthony Cavallaro, 15. “But with our chorus, once we get on stage and the energy kicks in, the nerves will go away.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or:rrouthier@pressherald.com