Practicing in a parking garage turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to the Montclair State University Singers.
After being discovered by a producer while singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah in the Red Hawk Deck and then featured on both The Today Show and CBS Evening News in September, the choir caught the attention of NBC’s The Kelly Clarkson Show. On October 29, millions of viewers saw Clarkson interview John J. Cali School of Music Director Anthony Mazzocchi, flanked by Choral Director Heather Buchanan and Accompanist Steven Ryan, followed by a performance by the Singers of the spiritual “Ain’t No Grave” from the Amphitheater.
“Being featured on the Kelly Clarkson Show is very surreal and is also a great blessing,” says freshman bass singer Christian Collazo. “It’s amazing when someone you grew up listening to recognizes your work and congratulates you on your accomplishments.”
“This was the apogee of the semester for these kids,” says Mazzocchi, who raved about Clarkson. “She is such a nice person. She’s really genuine.”
“Music is the thing that keeps us connected. It’s a universal language that helps us process all sorts of emotion,” Clarkson told the audience before introducing the University Singers. “It heals us. So when the school of music at Montclair State University in New Jersey knew they had to continue remote learning, they got creative. They took things outside and found the best spot on campus for acoustics, a parking garage. That must’ve sounded so rad! I’m so jealous of that!”
“As soon as we had to retreat into the digital realm this spring, we started following the science of COVID,” Mazzocchi told Clarkson. “Singers have a high aerosolization … but we also learned that the outdoors are our friend. And here at the University we have an amphitheater right outside and we have this open-aired parking garage. So here we are in our new school of music!”
Although the segment was conducted remotely (which would have been the case with or without COVID-19; Clarkson films in Los Angeles), it had all the “feels” of a live taping with the choir standing by in the Red Hawk Deck as they waited their turn – actress Natalie Portman was interviewed ahead of Mazzocchi for a separate segment.
“It was definitely interesting. We could see where we were in the queue,” says Mazzocchi.
Collazo, who credits the University Singers for giving his freshman year some sense of normalcy, hopes the segment will help others: “I hope that we can inspire other music programs that there is such a thing as safe learning and we can pave the way for future musicians all over the world.”
Regarding the interest potentially generated by the episode, Mazzocchi says, “I hope our servers can handle it. Two million people watch the show.”
Why has the story of singers in a parking deck sparked so much media attention?
“It’s so relatable,” says Heather Buchanan, the University’s choral director. “We all know parking garages. And we all possess this instrument – our voice.”
Says Mazzocchi, “It’s been an exhausting semester, but these kids are over the moon.”
The episode will be available shortly after broadcast here.
Watch the Montclair State University Singers’ entire performance of “Ain’t No Grave”:
Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann