Heather Petrie, a 2001 graduate of Freeport High School, standing next to colleagues at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Courtesy of Heather Petrie

Beginning with the local elementary school music program, Heather Petrie’s singing career was largely born out of her Freeport roots.

“Freeport was a really great place to be growing up and interested in music because there was just so much,” said Petrie, a 2001 graduate of Freeport High. “I just really appreciate growing up in a town where music had just a high importance placed on it.”

Twenty years later, Petrie, 38, is now based in New York City. On Monday night, she took another step in her opera and classical music career, performing the alto solos in Handel’s “Messiah” at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Petrie was invited by the Oratorio Society of New York, singing in a quartet alongside a chorus of 150 people as well as a full orchestra.

“I think what really grabs me about music – it can bring you anywhere. It can bring you to any time period or any emotion or any story,” said Petrie. “Especially when you’re with a choir or when you’re singing with other people … it’s a shared experience that you can go through with your colleagues and you can each give your part and you create something bigger than the sum of those parts.”

Handel’s “Messiah” is a roughly three-hour classical piece that was composed in 1741 and is well-known for its repetitious chorus of “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Petrie’s position is the contralto, a singer tasked with the alto solos and characterized as the second highest-pitched singer in a quartet, bridging the gap between soprano and tenor.

Leslie Fagan, the soprano singer, and Heather Petrie, the contralto singer, backstage at Carnegie Hall in New York City after the concert Monday. Courtesy of Heather Petrie

Carnegie Hall is a 3,671-seat concert venue in Midtown Manhattan. For many vocalists and musicians, being able to perform at Carnegie represents a significant career milestone. Petrie has sung in a chorus at the venue many times before, although only debuted as a soloist there in 2019.


“I just felt so privileged that I had made it this far,” said Petrie. “Sometimes I remind myself, I’m like ‘this seems crazy’ you know? Like I’m singing at Carnegie Hall. I’m from Maine. How did this happen? It just feels like every step of the journey brought me closer and closer.”

Petrie has been singing mostly her entire life. Formative figures from Freeport on that journey, Petrie said, were her middle school choir director Peggy LaForge, high school music teacher Denise Parkhurst and members of the Freeport Community Players, a local musical-theatre group in town.

One in particular was Lise Dunn — a former music teacher at Morse Street School, who taught 40 years with the Freeport-area elementary schools. Petrie said that Dunn’s curriculum, such as introducing the class to written music, helped plant the seed for valuable and necessary skills later on in life.

A resident of North Yarmouth, 70, Dunn retired in 2016, but her love of music continues. Dunn never forgot Petrie — who she said was standout student from the beginning.

“When we have a student like Heather, who performs so beautifully, she’s reaching a multitude of people on so many different levels,” said Dunn. “I’m so happy that some of my students, or many of my students I would say, continue finding that glimmer in music that lights up their heart.”

Dunn said that Petrie wrote to her a few years back, and every now and then she checks up on her music career online. Petrie’s success is an important testimony for the value of a musical education, Dunn said, which allows students to express themselves, build focus and increase self-esteem.

“It makes me feel very happy, but also proud. I’m so proud of her,” said Dunn, adding “when I see that someone chooses that path, it just feels like I’m so glad I was there for her to climb up on top of my shoulders and reach up higher than I ever would have been able to do.”

For more information about Petrie’s performance, visit osny.org/messiah.

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