Hawk-eyed locals who tuned into the Sept. 27 game between the Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals might have recognized some familiar faces beyond the Birds’ game-day lineup.
Nearly all of the 30 singers who comprise Cherokee High School’s Concert Choir performed the national anthem virtually before the afternoon game after being selected from hundreds of applicants.
“It was pretty amazing,” said choir director Nicole Snodgrass. “I thought that if I had just four or eight of my kids to do this, it would be great — but 29 of the 30 students were able to do it.”
About a week before the school year began, a friend of Snodgrass — who also happens to work security for the Eagles — let her know the team was accepting audition videos for singers to perform remotely before upcoming games.
Snodgrass first ran the idea past senior Aren Duffy, who was thrilled by the idea.
“Our choir definitely has a lot of talented kids, so I knew we were up to the challenge,” he said.
And even though the 2020-’21 Concert Choir wasn’t even finalized, in about one month Snodgrass went from hearing about the opportunity to seeing her students on national television.
It was a proud moment for a teacher whose career has seen decades of proud moments. Her choir students have performed everywhere from the White House and Carnegie Hall to international stages in Ireland and England.
What made the experience extra special for Snodgrass is how hard everyone worked to create a video separating the Cherokee choir from the rest. That included half of the singers who had never before performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” arrangement the recording used, as well as two Cherokee alumnae and former choir members, Sophia Fortuna and Maddie Maoirini, who helped with the audio and video editing, respectively.
The two edited together 29 separate videos comprising a four-part harmony, and did it well on a tight submission deadline, too.
“It was something that we put together so quickly,” said Duffy. “I think the turnaround time was maybe a week or so. It was incredible that Maddie and Sophia were able to edit together almost 30 videos in that time.”
“It was just this big love-fest of people who are really passionate about this choir,” Snodgrass added.
Fortuna is currently a music education major at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and taking her classes virtually because of the pandemic. She was eager to put some of the skills she learned in college to use for the high school choir she holds near to her heart.
“In terms of audio mixing and music technology, I just learned a lot of that this year,” the Cherokee grad said. “It’s something that’s really interesting and fun to me, and I learned very quickly at Berklee that it’s really beneficial to dip your toes into different facets of music. And it meant a lot that Ms. Snodgrass trusted me and what I’ve learned enough to do the audio for the video.”
Snodgrass said many of her students tend to be “lifers” who sing with the school choir for all four years, then stay in close contact with her, making it an easy decision to ask Fortuna and Maoirini for help
And it was just as easy for them to accept.
“In my time in Ms. Snodgrass’ choir, I had so many incredible experiences,” Fortuna recalled. “So many of those experiences shaped me and shaped what I’m doing today, so I thought, when she approached me about this, it was just right for me to give back to something that gave me so much.”
Snodgrass, along with a tenor and a bass from the concert choir, recorded each vocal part and sent them out accordingly to each chorale student so everyone would keep the same time. From there, Fortuna and Maoirini created one master video that moved Snodgrass to tears.
Duffy, too, was impressed.
“Maddie and Sophia are two of my best friends, so they let me see the video early just to make sure it sounded good,” he said. “I was shocked at how well we did blend, since none of us recorded in the same room.”
Aside from the beauty of the final recording, Snodgrass said it was a poignant reminder of how much she missed all four of her Cherokee choirs.
“I haven’t been with my students in a really long time,” she noted, her voice thick with emotion. “It had been since March since I’d seen everyone, so it was far more emotional because we hadn’t been together in so long — and now I was seeing them all in a choir together just like I had envisioned.”
While Snodgrass loved seeing Concert Choir add one more accolade to its storied history of accomplishments, there was something significant in watching her students create something together while the pandemic kept them apart.
“For me, it was about creating something beautiful in the midst of something really challenging,” she said. “The goal isn’t to win, the goal isn’t to achieve something because somebody else validates you — the validation is what we’re doing within our own choir and why we’re doing it, and we’re doing it to be together.”
Still, being selected for the virtual performance was an undeniable honor.
“Out of hundreds — which is just amazing, that there were hundreds of other submissions — we were chosen, and our national anthem played at Lincoln Financial Field,” Snodgrass marveled.
“It took my breath away,” she continued. “But beyond that, when I found out we were selected, they said that of all the submissions that were chosen, ours was the only one that did not need editing. And that is a crown that needs to be worn by my two former students who edited all these videos together.”
“Hearing my work in a setting as famous as the Eagles’ stadium was surreal to me,” Fortuna said with a laugh. “It was crazy.”
For Duffy, it was a welcome surprise, as he assumed the pandemic would effectively mean that his senior year wouldn’t be filled with the events that have punctuated his Concert Choir experience of years past.
“This was really cool, and it was special because I didn’t think we’d be able to do anything this year because of COVID,” he said. “I assumed the activities we would normally have would be out the window because of safety concerns. I was really glad this gave us a way to still perform for people.”
While Snodgrass said her love of teaching has made each of her 20-some years as a choir director special, it’s the students who motivate her and are at the heart of the choir’s success.
“Their love and their passion and that magic that they have even when they’re separated is still there,” she said. “The true achievement is that they made this happen.”