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St. James Choir to sing at Kennedy Center

March 17, 2009|By JANET HEIM

ST. JAMES -- It's a venue that draws respect and one that musicians clamor to have on their résumés.

The Kennedy Center, long synonymous with quality and art, will host the Saint James Choir on its Millennium Stage on Monday, March 30.

Barbara Wischmeier, choir director and chairwoman of the Fine Arts Department at Saint James School, submitted the required application in November, complete with a recommendation from the Rev. D. Stuart Dunnan, the school's headmaster, and the choir's last two CDs.

The confirmation deadline came and went, and when Wischmeier received an e-mail a week later, she expected it to have a "thanks, but no thanks" message. That wasn't the case, however.

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"It is quite an honor to be selected to perform at The Kennedy Center," Wischmeier said.

For her 22-member choir, it's a welcome addition to an already ambitious schedule.

"We have a lot on our plate next month when we return from spring break," she said.

They'll have two weeks of rehearsals before The Kennedy Center performance, followed a week later by Holy Week, with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services.

On Good Friday at noon, they'll perform the entire John Rutter "Requiem" with orchestra. A concert tour to North Carolina follows a few days later.

Wischmeier, who has been at Saint James School for 10 years, said the choir rehearses five days a week.

She said her department's motto, "For All," is essentially the same as that of The Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to Washington, D.C. It was created to offer free public performances almost every day, Wischmeier said.

The Saint James Choir will perform for 30 minutes, beginning at 6 p.m. The choir's concert will be followed by a performance by the University of Maryland Brass Quintet.

Wischmeier said Saint James was the only private school selected.

Wischmeier, 48, who grew up in the Chicago area, developed a love for music at an early age. Both of her parents were professional musicians, as well as her brother.

She began taking piano lessons at age 5, and studied organ, violin and voice. She earned degrees in music through the doctoral level.

After teaching at the college level and seeing how unprepared students were for pursuing music careers, Wischmeier decided she could make more of a difference at the high school level.

She said her students arrive with a wide range of exposure to music, from those with minimal to no training in general music to some who are "mini professionals." Wischmeier said they are still young enough to learn music, which she compares to learning a foreign language.

Wischmeier teaches music theory, advanced-placement music theory and general music for first-year students (eighth grade), directs the choir and plays for chapel every day of the week.

She oversees 12 professional musicians who help teach 130 of the school's 225 students.

Wischmeier said teaching at a boarding school is a lifestyle choice.

"These students are my children, the faculty are my family," she said.

More information about The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage can be found at www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium.

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