Seymour High School choir reflects on New York City trip

People from around the world visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on a daily basis.

Those who happened to be there between 1:45 and 2:45 p.m. May 31 had an opportunity to hear 26 student-musicians from the 2021-22 Varsity Chorale at Seymour High School.

They sang nine songs, ranging from “This Little Light of Mine” to “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” under the direction of Kyle Karum.

“The venue was amazing, but the thing that was just so different was these people, they don’t know us, and we’re used to a home audience that is just parents and friends and family,” senior Haleigh Brott said. “What was amazing was we had all of these strangers in the crowd recording us, wanting to take pictures of us, and that was when it was really like, ‘We’re doing something.’”

Senior Joshua Sanchez said it was a great opportunity.

“I think just the grandeur of everything, the openness, the amount of people just showing up, the venue itself was gorgeous, everything about it was just spectacular,” he said.

Junior Carly Kaiser said the acoustics and overall sound in the cathedral were unbelievable.

“When we would finish off a note, it would just echo, and then it was just perfect,” she said. “It was a little intimidating once we first got there, but once you got a feel for why we were actually there and the purpose behind it, then it just helped relax us.”

The cathedral, which opened in 1879, offers a Guest Choir Concert Series for top-level high school, college, church, cathedral and professional choirs from around the world. An ensemble director may apply to reserve a date and time to perform.

Applications are considered once the application and all accompanying materials are submitted, including a photo and recordings of the choir and a proposed program of no more than 50 minutes of music. Prospective applicants must apply at least two months in advance of the prospective performance date and will receive a response within five weeks.

Choral concerts take place within the hour time frame, and the program must be appropriate for a sacred space and for the liturgical season, so that means no Broadway tunes, pop songs, love songs, etc.

Karum said he began thinking about taking the Seymour choir on a trip when he started at the school in the fall of 2015. Previous directors had done trips.

“Travel is sort of in our blood in Seymour High School choirs, and it’s in my blood as a musician myself,” he said. “I traveled while I was in high school and in college to various places to perform and dive into the culture a bit and meet the people and see the sites, so traveling as a musician has always been something we’ve always valued. I wanted to bring it to this program for a long time, something I’ve been dreaming of.”

He used his experiences of choir trips to Brazil and New York City in high school and Miami and Mexico in college to dream up what would be a great trip for high-schoolers.

“For me, traveling with a choir will always be about at least one performance, at least one workshop and lots of educational stops,” he said.

In 2019, he worked with Brightspark, a company that helps teachers plan custom education and performance trips, to organize a trip for Memorial Day week in 2021.

The proposal was shared with Principal Greg Prange in January 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic started a few months later and shut down schools. Restrictions still were in place at the beginning of 2021, and ultimately, the trip was postponed.

It was rescheduled for May 29 to June 2 this year after Karum’s application was approved in October 2021. In late 2019, Brightspark was acquired by WorldStrides, so Karum began working with that company to develop the itinerary.

Due to only being able to take one bus, 26 of the 64 Varsity Chorale members — mostly juniors and seniors and some sophomores — were chosen to go on the trip. Plus, there were accompanist Karla Shutters, middle school choir director Katie Persak, some parents and a nurse.

In terms of picking where to perform, Karum said St. Patrick’s Cathedral was his preference.

“St. Patrick’s is such an iconic location,” he said. “It’s this beautiful, world-renowned, historic venue that was my top choice. They are really trying to promote a sense of community or an outreach in education, so we were thrilled to be a part of that.”

The songs he chose for the concert were performed by the choir in recent years.

“It was more just enjoying the experience and enjoying the day, living in those musical moments,” Karum said. “When they would hit a chord, it would just sing, it would lock and it was tuned. A space like St. Patrick’s, one of the reasons I wanted to sing there is because it has such great acoustics. Oh man, it’s great, especially if you get a large group and they can sing with a lot of resonance and just send the sound to the back of the room. Then it just echoes.”

On the last day of the trip, the Seymour group visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” outside between the north and south tower pools.

“That was powerful, especially for the adults,” Karum said.

The choir also had an hourlong clinic at Pearl Studios with Ronnie Oliver, associate director of choral activities at Manhattan School of Music and one of Karum’s professors when he was a student at Western Michigan University.

As Karum directed the choir singing “Child of Wonder” and “Behold, How Good,” Oliver made assessments on his conducting, took notes on the choir and made corrections.

“The kids really liked that,” Karum said.

During the trip, the group also visited Central Park and Times Square a few times, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, Top of the Rock, Radio City Music Hall, American Museum of Natural History, Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty. Plus, they saw the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” and even took a ride on the subway.

“It was a blast,” Karum said of the packed schedule.

Sanchez said after they toured Radio City Music Hall, he had a memorable moment taking in all the bustling city has to offer.

“I just remember standing out there looking at everything going on. There’s so much livelihood in the city,” he said. “It was fantastic seeing cars going through, people just living their lives. It was truly something spectacular. It was just a nice experience overall. Everyone was very friendly.”

Brott noticed that, too.

“I don’t think I talked to a single person that wasn’t just so outwardly nice and welcoming the whole trip,” she said. “Just people going out of their way on the road just to say ‘Good morning’ or ‘Have a nice day,’ stuff like that, especially people in the service industry, they were all just really nice people.”

Kaiser had been to New York in the past, and she appreciated the opportunity to go there again with her mother, Susan Kaiser, as one of the chaperones.

“My mom and I were able to really just take in everything and not feel rushed,” she said. “We had more time to really look in-depth at all of the places that we went to. I just felt like we had a lot of freedom, and we were able to just do our own little thing for a couple hours, which was really nice.”

Whether they are returning to the choir next school year or not, the students feel the trip was a beneficial experience.

“We have our retreat where we do a lot of bonding stuff, and I still feel like a lot of bonding was done on this trip, as well. I think that will definitely help returning members. It was a good lesson on being prepared for concerts,” Brott said.

“I think working with other directors will help broaden your horizons in how other people work,” Sanchez said. “I know some people who were on this trip are going to university and they are pretty sure they are going to choral programs there, so experiencing how other directors work and kind of getting used to it is pretty beneficial.”

Kaiser agreed with Brott that the trip helped bond the student-musicians.

“Unfortunately, we will be losing people that were seniors and that graduated already, but I think it’s an overall great way to bond with the choir, and it shows the appreciation that we all have for choir, and that’s why we’re all in it,” she said.

For those who weren’t able to watch the Varsity Chorale at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in person or live online, a recording is available to watch at

“I just feel like it was a way to showcase what Seymour has to offer on a different level, and I really wanted to be part of it,” Kaiser said. “It was a great opportunity to be able to show people that Seymour High School doesn’t just perform in Seymour, Indiana, that we want to do these trips and we are more than welcome to go and experience new things.”