Touring around Manhattan and singing at Carnegie Hall earlier this month was a life-changing experience for the Spirit of Grace Singers of Weyburn.

Ranging in age from 15 to 18, Donald Alexander, Camden Husband, Brittany Barber, Natalie Butz, Calla Hrynewich, Emerson Jack, Tauren Jack, Brinlee Klapak, and Jyllian Payak, were directed by Kendra Gonczy and accompanied by Colleen Weimer.

In September, the singers were told about the plan to perform with a 100-member Saskatchewan Choir, under the direction of Jennifer Lang from the University of Saskatchewan.

They shared about their experience with Discover Weyburn.

"It was a pretty amazing surprise to find out we were going to New York and when we got there it was just super exciting," shared Emerson Jack. "The streets make you feel alive. There's so much going on all at once in New York. You're never really bored and singing at Carnegie Hall was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"I thought the city itself was incredible, like somewhere I've always wanted to go and it was nothing short of what I thought it would be," shared Tauren Jack. "The lights were awesome. Times Square was pretty cool. Like Emerson said, you just feel alive when you're in the city and it was something that I'd really wanted to do and it was an incredible experience."

"It was super fun, super awesome," said Brinley Klapak. "There was a big build-up to the trip and it didn't disappoint. It was worth all the work to get there, with the two musicals and in the fall when we first learned about New York, I went home and I was so excited. It was everything I dreamed of since September. It was awesome. There is no bad parts and it was just so fun." 

Natalie Butz said she didn't think she would ever go to New York, "so it was a complete surprise, there wasn't any hints or anything. They just like told us so that it was incredible. All the musicals, of course, were amazing, and being a music group going to New York. In New York, there's so much music everywhere. So there's always music playing, and there's always live music places, buskers everywhere, and the shows that we went to, the orchestras and the live bands were incredible. So it was really cool to come from a music group perspective to this place where you're surrounded by it." 

Jyllian Payak said, "it was probably like the best trip I've ever been on. It was kind of hard to believe we were going until we actually got there, and then I was like, 'whoa!' Like when we first started singing it, I was just blown away because all the voices in the beautiful room. There's no words. It was so cool."

"Honestly, trip of a lifetime just epitomizes it," shared Calla Hrynewich. "It's truly hard to put into words how incredible of an experience it was, especially being so young, and to be able to experience something so massive like that at such a young age. Like Natalie said, the music just surrounds you and being a music group and getting the opportunity to go sing at Carnegie Hall at the ages of 15 to 18, is something that I still can't wrap my head around. The fact that some of the most respected artists in the world have performed there and just to say, 'oh yeah, my choir group from when I was younger performed there'. It's such a crazy thing to be able to say, and it was truly just such an amazing bonding experience for all of us. We all got to know each other better and spending time in the city, like the twins said, it really does make you feel alive. And it was great to, not that I don't like Weyburn, but to kind of get away and just have a different surrounding for a bit was so amazing to experience." 

Donald Alexander said he also loved the trip. "I had a lot of fun just running around the city and talking to people and exploring. So it was fun, the city was fun. It is twenty-four seven, go, go, go. So I got to be a part of that." 

"It was like an experience of a lifetime," shared Brittany Barber. "Nothing can compare to what we experienced there. It was incredible."

Natalie Butz said their bonding throughout the trip began with the build-up for the trip. 

"Doing the two musicals beforehand probably brought us closer together than anything else, because of rehearsing together and being those characters, we get just really vulnerable, so we all get to learn more about each other and act together, which is really important in our group, and helps bring us together," she shared. "Then with the trip itself, all the flights that we've done and the chaos that we've gone through, I feel like definitely brought us together. Running through New York is crazy, so a lot of fun stuff that way. There's stuff that you don't know about people until you live with them. So by hanging out together for a whole week, you definitely learn something." 

Kendra Gonczy said they got to know their way around Manhattan, which isn't huge, but there is a lot going on there.

"The first day we went on a bus tour, where we want basically just Uptown and then Central Park, and we kind of searched around, so we saw a lot of things we needed to see, and then we stuck around, but every time we went walking, we saw a new street. Like, we didn't see 5th Ave. We were on 5th Ave, but we didn't even see 5th Ave till like the last day and we were like, 'oh my Gosh, there's all these fancy stores!' There was always something new and everywhere we turned, there was something new to see."

She said their days entailed quite a lot of action, with not a lot of downtime, but they saw everything they wanted to, including the Friends Experience. 

Gonczy said they got a lot of tips from Bob and Brenda King, who had also recommended the Broadway Museum.

The Back to the Future Musical, she noted, left them with their jaws on the floor. As well, the entire group also took in Wicked, which is in its 20th year on Broadway.

"I think we were in the sixth row so we could see them spitting, literally," she shared. "On the last night, we kind of went to different ones. Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Hadestown, Water for Elephants. Everyone kind of went in some smaller groups and really saw what they wanted to see. Our only sitting time was musicals. We didn't even sit to eat very much." 

She said everyone had 'food goals' for the Big Apple as well, including pizza, hot dogs, bagels, and even chicken.

"I don't know if the food was that good or we were that hungry. Honestly, we did all of these things and then, all of a sudden, it was like, 'now we get to go sing' and we kind of had done all this stuff leading up and we had practiced a lot leading up, which I think was a really good thing too. We were by far the youngest in that group. There was university students and above. So some established singers, but these kids, I couldn't be more proud. I was looking around, it was hard to take my directors cap off a few times and everyone was singing their hearts out. It was tough music, it was in Latin. It was not easy to do, but we worked hard and everyone sang. We didn't just stand there like flies on the wall. Everyone was singing their hearts out, owned it, and our director Jennifer Lang honestly is incredible. I learned a pile from her. I respect her so much. She was amazing, she was so personable. She was a huge reason why the choir sounded as amazing as it did, because she was incredible to work with."

The group had 45 minutes in Carnegie Hall to practice, and the song itself was 30 minutes long. 

"It was a well-oiled machine. We were in, we were out, we were climbing a lot of stairs. Carnegie Hall is a very tall building." 

"These kids were amazing there," she noted. "It was my favorite part. I've been to New York with my husband before, and I said my favourite part of the whole thing was watching every single person's reaction to everything. The first time we saw the city from 105 floors in the air. The first time they figured out what was actually happening in Wicked. Seeing Calla's face and Jyllian's face when we walked into Carnegie Hall, and just that amazement."

"Carnegie Hall was by far more gorgeous in person. I've never seen anything like that."

Singing at Carnegie Hall was followed by watching a mass choir perform Mozart, then they boarded a cruise ship, enjoyed food and dancing, and saw the Statue of Liberty.

"It was crazy. It was busy. We put on a lot of miles. I think everyone's feet were swollen on the plane ride home, but it was awesome," said Gonczy. "We got to see the New York skyline at night from the cruise ship with our choir members after the concert at midnight."

"Seeing everyone's reaction to everything and how thankful they were, and after six days they all said 'thank you' at the end and gave me a hug. That's pretty good after six days of traveling together and not much sleep, so they were incredible."

Brittany Barber also thanked Colleen and Kendra during the interview, "for everything they've done. We wouldn't even be here without them. I've been with them since I was five years old, and they are the reason I found music." 

Calla Hrynewich added, "We would not have had this opportunity without them."