October 7, 2002 Vol. VII, No. 4

Members of CSUN's Northridge Singers back Barry Manilow onstage at the Kodak Theatre.

Northridge Singers Back Streisand & Manilow at the Kodak

Members of CSUN's Premier Choral Ensemble Perform for an Audience of Hollywood Luminaries

In the latest in a series of highlights for Cal State Northridge's premier choral ensemble, the Northridge Singers were chosen to back singing legends Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow for a gala September 29 concert at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre, performing for an audience of entertainment industry luminaries.

A contingent of 24 CSUN students provided background vocals onstage for Manilow's rendition of "Let Freedom Ring" and then returned to back Streisand for her show closing performance of "God Bless America" before an audience of more than 3,000 who attended the political fundraising event in Hollywood.

"The students were wonderful. I thought they were very professional. They looked professional and they performed wonderfully," said Northridge associate music professor Paul Smith, who leads the CSUN ensemble that now is regularly chosen to perform with world-class musicians.

In just the past year, the Northridge Singers performed last September at the Hollywood Bowl for the first time with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, were chosen to sing for last October's Emmy Awards show that was ultimately postponed, helped open the Kodak Theatre last November with opera star Russell Watson, and then returned there to back Barry Manilow for his New Year's Eve performance.

The Northridge Singers' third and latest appearance at the Kodak came for the National Democratic Gala, which organizers said raised about $6 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group's largest-ever fundraiser. The politically active Streisand came out of semi-retirement to perform for that cause.

Smith, a veteran conductor and performer who also has developed broad relationships in the entertainment industry, said he first learned of the invitation to the Northridge Singers for the event when Barry Manilow's musical director called several weeks before the concert, wanting to talk about scheduling a rehearsal.

After picking the requested 24 performers from among the 66-member ensemble, Smith and the students headed for a rehearsal with Streisand and the event's band the Thursday before the concert at a Culver City studio. "We were introduced to Barbra. She was very friendly, and she said she was delighted we were going to join her," Smith said.

The day of the concert, the CSUN students spent most of the day at the Kodak, first rehearsing with Manilow, then sharing a Wolfgang Puck catered lunch with all of the night's performers, and then returning to rehearse with Streisand. After that, the students donned their black tuxedos and evening gowns to perform during the 212-hour event.

After Manilow's performance, Smith said the singer came offstage to shake hands with some of the CSUN students and tell them they did a great job. To close the evening, Streisand and all the night's performers reprised her earlier "God Bless America," with the CSUN students this time walking down the main aisles of the hall as they sang.

"The kids loved it. They were in awe. They were just on cloud nine," Smith said of the evening. For Smith, "Of all our recent events, I'd count this and the performance with Wynton Marsalis as highlights. Our students were performing with some of the top talent in the nation," he said.

A special moment at the Kodak came earlier in the day when tenor Thomas Young of the Three Mo' Tenors, with whom Smith had performed as a teenager, took time to come and talk with the CSUN students. "That moment alone, having a professional singer whom they were clearly in awe of, alone was worth being there."

Smith also thanked the CSUN Music Department for supporting the students in such an event and recognizing that they need a breadth of experiences in preparing to become professionals. "The department knows we are preparing students for the 21st century. In doing that, we've got to give them a sense of the breadth of the possibilities."

For their performance, the Northridge Singers gained a prominent mention of their ensemble and the university in the event's printed program, as well as an honorarium for CSUN's choral program. The promoters for the night, the same ones who handled the earlier Russell Watson concert, told Smith his students performed well.

"It's clear they could have hired professional singers for the evening. They could have decided to do without. But they decided to call us," Smith said, adding that such performances help establish an ensemble's reputation. "When you have success and you are clearly part of success, it can't hurt you. People know you can do it," he said.

@csun | October 7, 2002 issue
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