Fairfield Glade parish spreads Word in NYC via music

St. Francis of Assisi choir members anchor Festival Chorale of Cumberland County, perform at Carnegie Hall

THE BIG STAGE Members of the choir at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade drew applause at Carnegie Hall.  Courtesy of St. Francis of Assisi Church

THE BIG STAGE Members of the choir at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade drew applause at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of St. Francis of Assisi Church

Voices from the mountains of East Tennessee have been filling New York’s Carnegie Hall, and the experience is divine inspiration for the director of music and liturgy at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade.

Brian Bacon, who joined St. Francis of Assisi in February 2010, has spent much of this year organizing a Cumberland County chorale to perform in New York as part of MidAmerica Productions’ concert series at the famed music hall.

The production company has been staging musical performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center since 1983, presenting conductors, soloists, and choral and instrumental ensembles from across the United States and abroad.

MidAmerica contacted Mr. Bacon in summer 2012 and invited him to conduct his own concert as part of the MidAmerica series at Carnegie Hall.

After quickly saying yes, Mr. Bacon began putting together a chorus worthy of Carnegie Hall.

Led by St. Francis of Assisi Church, Bacon has formed the Festival Chorale, a 60-voice ecumenical church choir based in Cumberland County representing 13 churches.

“It is a ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. We present two major sacred choral works a year,” Mr. Bacon said.

To complement the Festival Chorale at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Bacon invited the Roane State Community College concert choir, which created a 200-voice body singing as a massed choir.

Rehearsals began in January, and the first performance was held May 5 at First Baptist Church of Fairfield Glade, which was large enough to accommodate the ensemble.

The ensemble then left for New York in late May for its 2013 choir tour, with an early tour stop at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Woodstock, Va.

The two-hour Carnegie Hall performance was held May 26 in front of about 2,000 concert-goers. The New England Symphonic Ensemble, the house orchestra for the concert series, accompanied the Festival Chorale.

It was Mr. Bacon’s fifth time performing at Carnegie Hall, but it was his first time as a conductor.  He performed at the famed music hall as a member of Roane State’s choir when he was a student there.

“While at Roane State I had my calling to serve in a church in music ministry,” he said, adding that he earned a degree in music from Maryville College and then brought another church choir to Carnegie Hall in 2003.

He converted to Catholicism in 2006 and moved back to East Tennessee from Missouri in 2010, when he and his family joined St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade.

His previous New York performances left him wanting to repeat the experience as a conductor.

“To perform in Carnegie Hall is a performer’s dream. It’s more exciting as a conductor to put it all together. There is an overwhelming amount of talent on the Cumberland Plateau,” Mr. Bacon said, noting that the singers held fundraisers to raise money for the trip and they paid much of their own way.

He also said the group rode a bus to New York instead of flying.

“It was absolutely amazing. It went beautifully,” Mr. Bacon said, adding that the one-hour performance drew much applause.

“We received a standing ovation, which is very humbling,” Mr. Bacon said.

The East Tennessee performers peaked at Carnegie Hall, according to the conductor, who said the performance was almost flawless.

“I wouldn’t have changed a thing, well except for the cell phone that went off in the sixth movement. I heard Maroon 5 in the background,” he lamented.

Although the performers peaked in New York, Mr. Bacon said the performers have even more to offer as a group.

“This ensemble grew for the first time. Now, it’s what can we accomplish together,” he said. “It’s not where do we go from here. It’s what can we accomplish.”