When you hear the words 'Carnegie Hall', you'll be reminded of the great musicians that's ever performed in the prestigious venue: Elton John, The Beatles, Judy Garland, to name a few. It's a true honour when a musician crosses the threshold of the historic concert hall. And to perform to a sold-out crowd? Priceless. A local Carnduff woman was able to achieve both in one night. 

"It was surreal. I'm still kind of getting back into my everyday life, going like 'what just happened?'. But yeah, it was just an opportunity that fell into my lap and I couldn't pass it up, that's for sure," Marlee Phair expressed. 

Originally from Melita, Marlee Phair was a high school choir singer with the Westman Youth Choir based in Brandon, Manitoba from 1994-96. The choir was contacted by the Distinguished Concerts International New York back in January. Alongside other choir groups around the world, they were invited to perform music composed by 2-time GRAMMY Award winner, Christopher Tin.

"At first, I think the committee thought it was like a hoax! We looked into it and I put my hand up for sure. That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There ended up being about 25 of us alumni. There was a lady from when [the choir] started the mid-80s and right on through to some of the kids that just actually were in the choir last year. It was a good range of people and we had a blast."

There were seven songs from the composer that Marlee had to perform with the choir. 

  • Sogno di Volare
  • Iza Ngomso, from The Drop that Contained the Sea
  • The Saddest Noise, from The Lost Birds
  • Wild Swans, from The Lost Birds
  • Hope is the Thing with Feathers, from The Lost Birds
  • Baba Yetu, from Calling All Dawns
  • Waloyo Yamoni, from The Drop the Contained the Sea

25 singers represented the alumni choir from Manitoba. A sold out crowd of 2500 people watched in awe, as more than 200 singers performed the songs inside the Carnegie Hall as part of an orchestra. Phair said this was the first time the Hall had been sold out since the pandemic.

Composer Christopher Tin Two-time GRAMMY Award winning composer Christopher Tin conducting an orchestra that included over 200 choir singers on June 9, 2024. (Photo provided by Marlee Phair/credit to Distinguished Concerts International New York)

Phair shared that training for the performance was difficult, since they only had access to a group setting a handful of times. 

"I was panicking a bit when we were to go over these songs on our own and and get prepared. We were so lucky to get a lady by the name of Shannon Moses. She's been on the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and she jumped on board with us because she was a huge Christopher Tin fan. She got us prepared. We met in Brandon three or four times personally and then we would have like a few different Zoom calls with our different kind of parts and stuff."

"Most of [the training] was just kind of on our own and after that first practice. I was panicking."

Marlee's day-to-day job is to manage the Carnduff retail location for Nutrien Ag Solutions. She shared that she has a son who plays baseball. By all respects, she's calling herself a 'very regular' person. However, she's now a part of a long list of musicians who've performed in a prestigious concert hall most musicians can only dream of playing in. Phair still finds it unbelievable she had this experience. 

"I just never would have thought that singing in a youth group in small town Manitoba would have ever led to that. That part was just heartwarming to know that it had snowballed into meeting all those people from all over the world. We didn't get a lot of time to chat and learn much about them [sic]. But the few people that I stood around in the choir, like the lady beside me was from England, we just kind of formed a bond that nobody else would have, right? Nobody else has had that experience together. It's just just surreal. [I'm] still pinching myself," she added.

Westman Alumni Choir at Carnegie HallThe 25 singers from Westman Youth Choir Alumni, who performed with composer Christopher Tin at Carnegie Hall. (photo provided by Marlee Phair)

"Just seeing everybody on the balconies and and just knowing the history of who's all been on that stage, it was quite an honor for sure. People are like, 'Oh, it's a bucket list!' but honestly, it wasn't even a bucket list because I feel like bucket list items are attainable. It was nowhere in the realm of me ever thinking I would get there. I've sung here and there over the course of my adult life just for fun. I haven't been in an actual choir setting since, you know, high school. It was unreal." -Marlee Phair on the experience of performing at Carnegie Hall.

These days, her talent is largely reserved for curling bonspiels, karaoke nights, weddings and bonfires around the people she loves. Marlee noted that singing is just for fun. 

"It's something I love to do and it's just there. I was kind of just gifted it."