In late March, Chapleau-born Keiko Larocque found herself onstage at Carnegie Hall. With the help of Professor Agnes McCarthy, Larocque found herself performing on one of the most prestigious stages in the world, realizing a dream she never knew she had.

“It all happened really fast,” said Larocque of the experience. Larocque was introduced to McCarthy in her first year of studies in Algoma University’s music program. McCarthy is currently Larocque’s voice instructor and owns her own academy as well, the Northern Arts Academy.

“Since first year, Aggie asked if I would join her choir with the Northern Arts Academy, but it just didn’t fit into my schedule.” However, last fall, while performing at an ORMTA concert for Canadian music, Larocque had the opportunity to see McCarthy’s Senior Choir Ensemble perform a piece by Donna Rhodenizer, entitled “The Love of the Sea”. “I had seen the choir perform before but that was it. After watching them perform that piece, I knew I had to be a part of their choir. They stole my heart.”

Come January, Larocque joined the choir, which consists of nine other members, ages 13 – 18. “I was definitely the oldest. I’m almost 20 and two others are just graduating Grade 8. But the talent they have and the maturity in their voices – it’s an honour to perform alongside them.”

Upon joining, she was told that the group was going to New York to perform at Choirs of America in only three months time.

Larocque was ecstatic about the opportunity, but also a bit apprehensive. “The trip cost one very pretty penny and I’m a student living away from home. So there was definitely some saving required but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I have so much support here as well.” Larocque secured financial assistance from the University’s Music Department, ORMTA, and McCarthy’s academy. She is immensely thankful for the support.

The choir was supposed to spend five days in New York City. The trip was unfortunately cut short due to a snowstorm in New York, which delayed the Soo cohort’s arrival in the Big Apple. But, the storm didn’t dampen their spirits. “It was the greatest experience of my life so far, and I doubt anything will top it for a very long time.”

While in New York, the choir of 10 had the busiest four days of their lives. They had an adjudication at Queen’s College, took part in a variety of vocal clinics, toured The Lincoln Centre for Performing Arts, including the Director’s Box at the Metropolitan Opera, went on a DJ dance cruise, watched the Broadway production of The Band’s Visit, as well as perform at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall.

“When we sang at Carnegie Hall, we sang as The Grandioso Choir, which was about seven choirs combined. We were the only Canadian choir too, which was almost like being celebrities believe it or not. We sang three pieces as the Grandioso Choir. Mozart’s ‘Sanctus’ was the first, the second was a piece our conductor Rollo Dilworth had composed called ‘Shenandoah,’ and it was by far our favourite. Actually getting to work with the composer of a piece was an amazing experience. ‘Stand Together’ was the last piece of our set, composed by Jim Papoulis. The final piece of the entire evening was specifically written for Choirs of America. The world premiere of ‘Silent Road’ quickly became the most sincere moment of my life. Over 700 voices singing one note in unison to end the piece – I almost cried. It was so beautifully powerful. And to be at Carnegie Hall performing it – it was a dream. People wait a whole lifetime to get that opportunity. And here I am, almost 20, and I’ve already done it. It seems so surreal even now.”

Larocque has McCarthy to thank for the opportunity. “Less than two years ago, I never dreamed of singing classically. I had never studied classical music. I didn’t even know how to breathe properly when I started at Algoma. It was so frustrating at the beginning of my degree because things were so technically different and it felt like I had to relearn something I thought I had mastered already. But that’s why I’m here, and look at where it’s led me. It’s because of Aggie. I have no words to describe Aggie. She’s the best. She opens her arms and says, ‘Here are five opportunities, you can do what you want with them. Do them all, or take your pick.’ And what that really means is, ‘Do them all, Keiko.’ Where else am I going to get someone who legitimately knows their stuff and genuinely cares so much, to be handing out New York City, Carnegie hall, and everything else? I have no words to describe how thankful I am for her and this opportunity.”