SCARBOROUGH – More than 30 students from Scarborough High School Chorus are preparing for the opportunity of their young musical lives.

On April 10, members of the chorus will be performing prior to service at the Washington National Cathedral, the sixth largest cathedral in the world and second largest in the country.

Chorus director Suzanne Proulx and her students are not taking the performance lightly. Since the holidays, the group has been preparing for the appearance, during which they will perform nine pieces in just under half an hour.

“It’s probably the most rigorous program we have ever done because it is 25 minutes of a cappella music,” Proulx said.

In order to make the trip a reality, the group must raise $650 per member. The biggest fundraiser is set for Friday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Scarborough High School auditorium, when Coos Canyon, a Maine folk/blues trio will be performing rock classics. The student chorus will be joining the band for a performance of Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Helplessly Hoping.”

According to Proulx, the work will all be worth when the students step into the magnificent cathedral, which was the site of both the last sermon of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the state funeral for President Ronald Reagan.

“What I am looking most forward to,” she told the chorus officers after a rehearsal late last week, “is when you open your mouths at the National Cathedral and you hear the vibrant sound that is echoing through that glorious space. Your faces are going to beam and it will make you know all this hard work was worth it.”

The trip fits well with the overall mission of the school’s chorus. For many students in the group, participating in the chorus is not just about growing as singers, but growing as people.

Senior Katelynn Collins, who has been singing since third grade after learning the craft from her mother and grandmother, said the chorus group has allowed her to grow from one of the quietest students in her freshman class to being an outspoken senior.

“I used to be shy and very quiet,” she said. “I’ve really blossomed and come out of my shell through chorus. It makes me more comfortable. It’s helping me in my other classes as well and helped me to become who I am.”

Junior Julia Raffel has also seen herself become more comfortable being in front of people through participating in chorus.

“For me, it is just a lot of fun,” she said. “It gives you a great opportunity to be on stage in front of people and puts you out there in a way you wouldn’t be otherwise.”

For senior Courtnee Benner, the group’s vice president, the chorus is much more than a collection of singers.

“These guys are like a family to me,” she said.

While on the trip, which will last from April 7 to April 11, Benner and her fellow chorus students will have plenty of opportunity to be immersed in the experience surrounding the nation’s capital. While there, the students will be led on a tour of the U.S. Capitol building by staff from Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office, visit the Smithsonian museums and National Zoological Park, as well as Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated, and Mount Vernon, George Washington’s palatial estate on the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria. Some students will also visit the Holocaust museum.

Proulx said this kind of experience should be a requirement for all Americans, especially students.

“Every American student should go to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “It should not be a luxury. It should be part of their educational experience.”

Proulx said she has no concerns about offering that experience to this group of students.

“We’ve got a really great bunch going,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a better group of students. They are the nicest, most respectful group of people. That’s why we can go to places like Washington, D.C.”

This group, however, will not be the first chorus from Scarborough to visit Washington, D.C., or even sing at the National Cathedral.

In 2004, Proulx took a group of students to sing at the Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., the church George Washington attended in the late 1700s.

It was during this trip that Proulx first set her eyes on having her group sing at the National Cathedral. During some downtime on that 2004 trip, the group of students went there to check out its architecture. It was during that visit where they heard singers from England perform “Rejoice in the Lamb,” a song by Benjamin Britten that Proulx had recently taught her students. She soon began looking into what it would take for Scarborough chorus to sing in the cathedral.

In 2007 the group got its chance. Since none of those students were still in the chorus group this year, Proulx felt it was time to have another group experience singing in the famed cathedral.

Having never been to D.C., Collins said she is excited to see the history up close and personal.

“It will be nice for us to see it play out in person and not just read about it in our textbooks,” she said.

Edward Budway, a senior and president of the chorus, said he is also excited about the trip. The students will get to see all the monuments and museums that D.C. is famous for, then they will be able to perform in a space known for its acoustical greatness.

“We will have the experience of singing in the best condition possible,” he said.

Sue Proulx, left, director of the Scarborough High School Chorus, leads rehearsal as the group prepares for an April 10 performance at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. A fundraiser for the trip is set for Friday, Feb. 18, in the high school auditorium. (Photo by Rich Obrey)Chorus members, from left, Julia Raffel, Samantha Beckwith and Katelynn Collins talk about their plans for the group’s trip to Washington, D.C., which is planned for April 7-11. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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