Nicolas Dosman, director of choral studies at University of Southern Maine, is traveling with dozens of students to perform Saturday at Carnegie Hall in New York City. This is the first time a group from USM has performed at the famed concert venue. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For aspiring singers, Carnegie Hall in New York is the zenith of performance venues. Some spend their lives trying to make it there.

“It’s just different than any other space because you know who’s been across that stage. That carries a certain amount of prestige,” said Nicolas Dosman, director of choral studies at the University of Southern Maine’s Osher School of Music.

Dosman knows. He’s sung on the Carnegie stage before. It stays with you.

This weekend, though, he won’t be singing but conducting a chorus of USM students, combined with members of adult community choruses in Portland and South Berwick that Dosman also directs, as part of a National Concerts performance at the famed venue.

National Concerts, based in New York City, produces collaborations for choirs, bands and orchestras, mostly at Carnegie Hall but sometimes at other venues across the United States. Constructed in the late 19th century in midtown Manhattan, Carnegie Hall has built a reputation as one of the most sought-after performance spaces, especially for classical and popular music.

It will be the first time any USM ensemble has performed on that stage.


“It’s been one of my goals since I was hired,” Dosman said of bringing a chorus to perform at Carnegie Hall. “There are just so many talented singers that come through here. The world needs to know. I want to help put the Osher School on the map and use every bit of juice I have to do that.”

Dozens of USM students, including some who graduated last month, will join the Maine community chorus members to form the National Opera Chorus. They will sing eight selected pieces on Saturday, behind contemporary opera professionals Alyson Cambridge, David Margulis and Sidney Outlaw. The show also will include selections performed by the Detroit Youth Choir, the West Virginia University Chamber Choir and the National Concert Chorus.


For the USM students, they know what a big deal it is, but they also hope their first time on the Carnegie stage is not their last.

“I mean, I certainly hope I can get back there,” said Bella St. Cyr, 20, a rising junior from Pownal. “That’s the dream.”

St. Cyr grew up singing in choirs and choruses and doing theater in high school. She chose USM because it was close to home and affordable, primarily, but said the school’s music program has a great reputation.


“I think the fact that this small state school is getting to go on this trip speaks to that,” she said.

March Steiger of Buxton, who graduated in May and is headed to a graduate program at Portland State University in Oregon, had some experience with USM before she chose to go there.

“I had an idea that it was a quality program, but maybe not to the extent that I’ve experienced and that I’ve seen others experience,” the 22-year-old said.

Much of that is attributable to Dosman and other faculty members, students said.

Dosman, in turn, credits the students.

“I’ve learned that so many talented people will come, largely because a major conservatory is just not affordable them,” he said.


The program soon will get a new home that might help attract even more students. Last year, philanthropist D. Suzi Osher donated $10 million – the largest-ever monetary gift to USM, to help build a new home for the USM School of Music on its Portland campus. Construction is underway and is expected to be completed next year.

Jonas Rimkunas, 28, will travel with dozens of fellow University of Southern Maine students to perform at Carnegie Hall. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jonas Rimkunas grew up in Gorham with music all around. His dad is a music teacher, choir director and graduate of USM’s music school, and his mother, he said, is a great singer as well. He was a member of the prestigious Boys Singers of Maine.

Still, it took Rimkunas time to realize he wanted to make music his livelihood.

“I feel like I had a whole life before this degree,” said the 28-year-old, who graduated last month.

Rimkunas worked in restaurants, a cabinet shop, did landscaping, even built boats, before returning to singing.

“I had joined a barbershop quartet, and it was really fun. We won some competitions and started to get gigs, and I just decided I wanted music to be a bigger part of life of again,” he said.


In the fall, he’s headed to a graduate program at the highly competitive Maryland Opera Studio at the University of Maryland.

“I’m exceptionally proud of my choice to go to USM,” he said.


The opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall came about through old-fashioned networking, Dosman said. He’s known the executive director of National Concerts, Matt Workman, for years. They connected at a conference and were talking about a CD of music from the USM chamber singers.

“I shared the CD with him, and he gave me a call a few days later and said, ‘We need to get you to Carnegie,’ ” Dosman said.

The concert was supposed to happen in 2020 but was canceled, along with everything else.


“Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen after that,” Dosman said.

Most of the concerts performed by USM students, both the chorale and the smaller chamber singers group, are thematic. This weekend’s opera concert will be different.

“Most students have really enjoyed it, but opera chorus is very different from general choral work,” Dosman said.

Steiger explained it this way: “You use a lot more of your core, I guess. I think people are encouraged to sing as if they are soloist but just in a chorus, if that makes sense.”

Preparation for the performance has been ongoing for weeks. The chorus held a preview concert on April 30 in Portland, where they sang each song in the program. Students took the place of professional soloists.


Rimkunas was one of them.

“I sang arias from (Italian opera composers) Rossini and Donizetti, but I’m really looking forward to hearing somebody of the (Metropolitan Opera House) caliber sing them right in front of me,” he said.


The program features selections from traditional 19th-century European operas to George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” to lesser-known works, including American composer Scott Joplin’s “Treemonisha.”

Dosman, who worked painstakingly to create a diverse program for the National Opera Chorus, said most audiences know Joplin for his ragtime music.

“I hope this experience inspires these students, especially the ones who might only know Maine,” he said.


For the USM students who already have graduated, Saturday’s performance feels like a proper coda.

“It’s weird,” Steiger said. “It feels like I may not see a lot of these people again, so it’s like one last hurrah with all my people.”

St. Cyr said she’s missing her sister’s high school graduation to perform at Carnegie Hall. She got her sister’s blessing, though.

“She understands,” St. Cyr said. “Maybe I’ll be back on that stage, and she’ll be in the audience.”

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