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Boys Town Choir, Set to Perform Before Symphony Show, Gets Advice from the Pros

​​​This article is written by Betsie Free​man, World-Herald staff writer. It was posted on on December 14th.

It was billed as a master class on music.

Members of the Boys Town Voices sang side-by-side Tuesday with seven Broadway performers in the Music Hall on campus. The professional singers,​ in town for the Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration, joined the 41-member choir on "O Holy Night," offering an audio-visual tutorial on expression and breath control and sharing a few thoughts about the song.

After that, in a revealing question-and-answer session, it morphed into a master class on life.

How to handle defeat. How to persevere. How to give thanks for blessings, apparent and otherwise.

The visit from the Broadway veterans was set up to help the choir prepare for its preshow at Thursday night's symphony concert. The group will perform about six songs, including "O Holy Night," in the Holland Center lobby, then stay for the Christmas show with other Boys Town representatives.

"It's an experience that most kids don't get," said Stephanie Ludwig, the symphony's public relations manager.

Ludwig said the symphony reached out to Boys Town in an effort to get additional groups for preconcert activities — something new to supplement the bell choirs and violin students who have performed for several years. It's the first time Boys Town has participated.

The students gave the pros a warm welcome with applause and whoops. When the performers joined the choir, several students were clearly awed.

Senior Shae Nielsen, 18, was wowed when professional singers Tiffany Haas and Siri Howard chose seats near her. She said she loves Broadway and plans to major in music in college.

"They were both in front of me, and I felt like I was going to fall over," she said.

When asked if they would like to pursue a performing career, more than half of the choir's members raised their hands. That surprised Haas, one of four headline performers in the symphony show who also has played the role of Glinda in "Wicked" on Broadway and in a national tour.

"That's not usually the case," she said.

The choir members — students in ninth through 12th grades — had several questions about what it's like to be a professional singer, actor and dancer. For each question, the students received answers that spoke volumes about the struggles they may face, no matter what path they choose.

They especially were riveted when the actors talked about how many times they had auditioned for shows.

"I got 72 nos for my first yes," Haas told the group. "If you want something bad enough, you have to keep trying."

And that's true no matter where you are in your career, added dancer Erin Moore.

Each student faced a fair amount of competition when auditioning for one of the spots in the Boys Town Voices, said Sierra Sanchez, who is in her first year as director.

The professionals also said it's important to take care of yourself and to be authentic.

"Don't waste time being what others want you to be," Haas said. "Hold your head high and like who you are."

They also stressed that a stage career means you sometimes have to be creative to support yourself.

Many performers also teach, judge competitions or find other jobs, said dancer Connor Schwantes.

"I am personally a hand model — that's my fun fact," he said. "You have to make money somehow. ... New York is expensive."

And Howard — who appeared in "Les Misérables" and "The Sound of Music" on Broadway — said she had a big lesson she wanted to impart.

"There's a fine line that's important to note, between gratitude and confidence," she said, encouraging the students to be gracious in victory and defeat. "It's not about being the star but about making art."

At the same time, she said, "it's also knowing you have something to offer."

The advice resonated with those who don't have stage aspirations as well as those who do. Senior Daemon Hug, 17, is in the choir merely because he loves to sing. His post-graduation plans include either joining the military or playing college football. Even so, he took a lot away from Tuesday's session.

"Everywhere you go, you're going to have to fight internal battles, and finding a way to deal with those will get you places," he said.​