Everyone knows the old joke about it taking “practice, practice, practice” to get to Carnegie Hall and for most musicians, that means being well into a career in music before even getting the opportunity to play the highly respected concert hall.
Not so for 15-year-old Morgan Schroeder of Walker. She has, though, been preparing most of her life for a chance like the pinnacle she reached about a month ago.
“I started singing in front of people when I was in the seventh grade but I’ve been singing almost my whole life,” Schroeder said, then explained how her first public performance came about.
“My seventh grade teacher actually got me to sing in front of the class and that kind of got everything started,” she said, then said the reaction from her classmates “gave me the confidence” to pursue music.
That, along with the encouragement of her seventh grade choir teacher, Rebecca “Becky” Chelette, set the quiet, shy young girl on what could well be a career in music and certainly a lifetime of a love of everything musical.
Now a member of the freshman school’s advanced choir under the direction of Christina Lewis, she was one of about 15 in the choir to audition for the High School Honors Choral Performance. During a brief interview, Schroeder admitted she was surprised to be selected by the Honors Performance Series organization.
“We had to send a video of ourselves singing a song and sent it to the organization,” she said. An international choir of about 150 was assembled from the submitted tapes. “There were people from Hong Kong and Mexico and from all over the U.S.”
A native and lifelong resident of Walker, the talented young lady is the daughter of Ashlyn and Jason Schroeder and one of three children – she has an older sister, Lexi, and a younger brother, J.D. They were all on hand for Morgan’s performance on that Sunday night, Feb. 5, on one of the world’s most famous stages.
“It was absolutely amazing…The acoustics in there were amazing and the theater was beautiful,” she said. “I started crying during sound check, thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh – I’m in Carnegie Hall.’”
Morgan said the concert consisted of six songs in four languages – English, Russian, South African and Latin. The tunes in foreign languages, choir members learned to sing phonetically.
She said it appeared to her the honors choir performed for a full house. “The audience seemed huge,” Morgan said. “Even the balconies were filled.”
“Honestly, there are no words to explain how I felt,” she continued. “It was amazing. It was mind-blowing.”
The family spent five days in New York City for Morgan to be able to be part of the honors choir. For the rest of the family, it was much more of a vacation than it was for her.
“I think it was about 16 hours that we rehearsed,” she said, beginning with a single session Friday, spending all day Saturday rehearsing and one last rehearsal on Sunday, prior to the concert.
There was some free time for sightseeing, though, even for the young singing sensation. “We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel on Times Square, so every night, we would go out and tour around the Square,” Morgan said.
A highlight of the trip was a tour on the Hudson River on a private yacht. “It was to celebrate all of our hard work,” she explained. “We got to see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty…My mom cried when she saw the Statue of Liberty.”
“They never stopped telling me how proud they were,” Morgan said of her glowing parents.
It wasn’t just her parents who were proud of her accomplishment. Her choir director beamed when she talked about her student’s achievement.
“She started with me last year in my beginning choir and she auditioned this year and earned a spot in the advanced choir,” Lewis said. “And while she’s shy, she’s a leader in the classroom. She was a section leader last year and the only reason she’s not a section leader this year is because she’s a sophomore and lacks the experience.”
“She’s also very talented playing musical instruments and is in the percussion section of the band,” she continued. “She’s very good at rhythm and she’s very good with melodies. She’s an all-around awesome musician.”
Morgan’s mother Ashlyn had no problems boasting about her daughter’s talent, either, and acknowledged her bashful nature.
“She’s so quiet and shy that she will barely order her own food at a restaurant, but if you give her a microphone and her guitar she will sing for a crowd,” she said. “We have always told her that her voice is a gift from God and she should share it with others.”
In addition to belonging to the school choir, Morgan is also a member of the choir at her church, Accountability Church, one of Livingston Parish’s many flood victims. Services are now held at the home of her pastor, Jesse Bourgoyne.
Ashlyn gave a lot of credit to the teachers who have mentored and encouraged Morgan along her musical path as well as Bourgoyne, about whom she said, “He has pushed her further out of her comfort zone and has her leading worship, playing guitar and singing for the church every Sunday and Wednesday.”
“Cathy McManus, the Livingston gifted music director, started working with Morgan the second half of her third year after North Corbin Junior High choir director Mrs. Chelette recommended Morgan,” she said.
She said she also appreciated Lewis’ confidence in Morgan and the encouragement she’s given her daughter, including rewarding her with the “most talented award” in the freshman choir.
“Morgan also loves to sing and play guitar with her 94-year-old grandmother Bonnie Lockhart, who I think was the most proud that Morgan was able to go to Carnegie Hall,” Ashlyn said. “She had my uncle text me to find out how it was going the whole time we were in New York.”
While there was some trepidation in the Schroeder household after Morgan submitted her audition tape, at the end of October they received the good news, “Congratulations, you have been accepted,” Ashlyn said. “I think the neighbors heard my whole family screaming.”
“We were so proud of the honor she received we decided then and there we – as a family – would accompany her to New York and lend our support,” she continued. “…As part of the Carnegie Hall experience, a Broadway show was included.”
“Seeing ‘Wicked’ on actual Broadway was a dream come true,” Ashlyn said. “Morgan said it topped her bucket list. During the performance, I looked next to me to find a tear rolling down her cheek with pure joy…which in turn made me cry.”
“Then, Sunday the day we had all been waiting for came, Carnegie Hall performance time,” she continued. “The sight of this gorgeous hall where so many great musicians have performed was breathtaking.”
“When I looked at the stage where my baby girl would get to sing and to get to see her name in the Carnegie Hall ‘Playbill,’ I choked up,” Ashlyn said. “We sat in awe of the performance. The most beautiful music in the most beautiful hall and Morgan was right there in front of us singing.”
“That was a very proud parent moment, I must say,” she said. “We feel so blessed to have had such an amazing experience.”
Tommy Comeaux is the Lifestyle editor at The Livingston Parish News. He can be reached via email at TommyComeaux@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, @tommycomeaux.