Mary Help of Christians Academy choir at Mets` game
North Haledon – Local students competed for and won the opportunity to perform the national anthem at Citi Field before the Mets take the field.
Each year, hundreds of vocalists compete for the honor, and on April 25, before the Mets game against the Atlanta Braves, the Salesian Voices choir from Mary Help of Christians Academy will perform “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The 40-member choir beat out other schools for the singing opportunity, and even though the members have never performed at a major sporting event, they were the opening act two years in a row for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
“We are very prepared so I think it’s going to be an amazing performance,” said 14-year-old choir member Dominique Scerbak.
“We’ve done a lot of different things, but I have to say this is one of our bigger performances,” said Tatiana Perez, 16.
“I’m ecstatic," said Jocelyne Guzman, also 16. "It will be my first time going to a baseball game, and having the opportunity to sing the national anthem is crazy to me because we’ll be in front of a bunch of people for our name to get out there.
"When everyone gets together and learns how to harmonize, it’s the most amazing sound,” she added.
Lucia Cardona, the all-girl Catholic school’s music director, said the national anthem can be a difficult song, but her students mastered the four-part harmony choral arrangement “literally in an hour,” and she expects they will do great.
She had anticipated the choir would face a great deal of competition for the Mets performance. But that was no reason to hold back when the school’s director of marketing and communications, Christine Lombardo, came up with the idea.
“Last spring our brother school, Don Bosco, performed the national anthem for the Yankees,” said Lombardo. “That inspired me. I started to do the legwork to find out how we could do the same thing.”
The girls stepped with an a cappella video submission to the Mets judges in January. Within a few days, the girls were notified they had been selected to perform, Lombardo said.
“We’re on a winning streak here,” Cardona said.
Although thrilled over the opportunity to perform, school officials said they knew the excursion to New York City would be costly. Two charter buses would be needed, and each student would have to pay for the $44 ticket.
Lombardo reached out to a friend who is a “huge Mets fan” – Giacomo Abrusci of IMT Steel in Bayonne – and he contributed $5,000, which was a big help with transportation expenses. The school also is selling tickets and seeking donations to help a student or Salesian sister afford the trip on its website at maryhelp.org/voices.
Since she started as music director, Cardona said, these outside performances are a great way to boost student enthusiasm for concert choir for grades nine through 12.
Every year, students sing at the St. Malachy’s-The Actors' Chapel choral festival in Times Square and at Music in the Parks at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, where they have won accolades in the all-woman’s choir category.
“I am always looking for opportunities to take them off campus to sing and perform in professional spaces,” Cardona said. She performed in New York City for theater, recordings and jingles before she started a family and decided to pursue teaching.
As yet another way of branching out, Mary Help of Christians has partnered with Bergen Catholic’s choir to jointly perform at the schools’ concerts.
Although not every student wants a career in music, Cardona said, there are benefits that extend beyond the stage.
“Music, singing and performing helps with every aspect of your life. It’s an all-around person builder. It gives you self-confidence and makes you be a leader because you’re standing up there and learning how to lead,” she said.
“It brings a lot of happiness into my life,” said Dominique Scerbak, a fan of the performing arts.
Tatiana Perez had never sung before joining the choir at Mary Help and now considers it “one of her favorite things to do.”
“It’s a little family,” Perez said of the supportive atmosphere she finds.