The members of the Watterson High School Mixed Concert Choir practiced, practiced, practiced, and that's how they're getting to Carnegie Hall.

The members of the Watterson High School Mixed Concert Choir practiced, practiced, practiced, and that's how they're getting to Carnegie Hall.

In fact, they will be practicing, practicing, practicing even after they get to New York City in advance of their performance on Monday, March 19.

"I'm going to drill it into them so they can sing it in their sleep," vowed Meredith Smith, now in her third year as choir director at Bishop Watterson High.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Smith added. "That's something I keep telling the kids and reminding them when they get frustrated with the music. This is not something most people ever get the chance to do."

It was a chance that appeared to have been yanked away from the 53 students in the choir.

They initially were scheduled to perform at the famous music hall in February, as guests of Kent State University professor Benjamin Ayling, who had visited Bishop Watterson with the college's men's choir in 2010 and was impressed with the work Smith was doing with her young singers. Ayling emailed the invitation to the choir director last year.

"Mrs. Smith shared the word with us, and we went nuts," Ike Hajinazarian, a senior at BWHS and leader of the tenor section, wrote in an email. "We heard the word 'Carnegie' and immediately were on the moon with joy. We all went home and told our families, and I can speak out of experience, the feeling was like no other. Word quickly spread through the school, and it was now known that the BWHS MCC was going to be performing in New York City at the most prestigious venue in the world."

That concert was cancelled when one of the larger choirs scheduled to appear backed out.

"But just as one door closed, another opened," wrote Ike, the son of Melkon and Siran Hajinazarian of Upper Arlington. "John Rutter, the composer of the piece we're learning, and one of the most famous composers of sacred vocal music in the world, contacted our choir and told us that we'd be invited to do his Carnegie show almost exactly a month later. We immediately jumped on the chance.

"Ever since then, we've been fundraising as if we were planning a trip to the moon, to offset the costs of a week in New York City, and our choir rehearsals have been an absolute whirlwind. We received the 85-page piece of music the day we got back from Christmas break, and have been pounding out the 45-minute piece ever since. There is no stopping at rehearsals anymore, no more pointless chatter. We have a mission, and that is to sing at Carnegie Hall in less than a month. We've already had a four-hour Saturday morning rehearsal and many others are scheduled between now and March 19."

"Every parent would love to see their child play in a place like Carnegie Hall," Bishop Watterson alumni director Jenifer Rasor, the mother of choir member Maddi Rasor, said. "We were absolutely thrilled for her, and for all the kids.

"She is so excited. She's been singing all her life and anyone wants to sing in a place like Carnegie Hall. She can't believe she's going to have an opportunity like this, particularly so young. I think for a lot of the kids, to see that hard work can turn into something like this they might want to be a choir teacher someday or study music education if not performing."

Upon arriving in New York City, the members of the Mixed Concert Choir will learn to meld their voices with those of seven other choral groups from around the country during five- to seven-hour rehearsals on March 17 and 18 and another three-hour session the day of the performance, according to school spokeswoman Colleen Mar.

The others are the Apple Valley High School Choirs from Minnesota, St. Norbert College Chamber Singers and Concert Choir from De Pere, Wis.; Cranford High School Concert Choir from New Jersey; American Heritage Concert Choir from Delray Beach, Fla.; Delavan-Darian High School Choir from Wisconsin; Penn Yan Community Chorus of New York; and Pueblo South High School Chorale from Colorado.

They will perform Rutter's "Magnifcat" under the direction of the composer himself.

"John Rutter is widely recognized as the leading choral composer of his generation," according to the website of the Aylesbury Choral Society of England. "He is also a distinguished editor and arranger of choral music, as well as a renowned conductor.

"Rutter's writing career has embraced large and small-scale choral works, orchestral and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children's operas, music for television, and specialist writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King's Singers. He is also well known for co-editing four volumes of the 'Carols for Choirs' series with Sir David Willcocks. The first performance of Rutter's Magnificat took place in Carnegie Hall in New York in May 1990."

While the piece, as Ike Hajinazarian pointed out, is complicated enough to learn, choir director Smith is equally concerned about the possible intimidation factor of the venue itself.

"In addition to standing as the pinnacle of musical achievement, Carnegie Hall has been an integral player in the development of American history," according to the website of the hall, which was built by industrialist Andrew Carnegie and opened with a five-day festival in the spring of 1891.

Smith said she is worried there will be an "initial, 'Oh, my goodness!' factor" when her singers find themselves before a full audience in Carnegie Hall's 2,804-seat Isaac Stern Auditorium.

Nevertheless, Smith has faith in her young charges.

"They are very good," she said. "They are a work in progress but they have gone leaps and bounds since I have been here."

Sue Schnitkey of Hilliard, whose daughter, Anna, is a senior in the choir at Bishop Watterson, said that she and her husband Michael were overjoyed at learning about the Carnegie Hall performance.

But not as much as Anna.

"That's been a goal of hers to sing there, probably since she was a second- or third-grader," Sue Schnitkey said. "She's very excited. When she goes into choir class every morning, she writes the number of days they have left on the board. She's their official counter.

"They've all worked very hard."

Michael Fry, a teacher at BWHS and also the parent of a daughter, Sharon, in the choir, wrote in an email:

"I hope that my daughter and the others realize that this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is truly a gift to experience and be a part of something of this caliber. If they realize this, then the memories that they bring home will be pure and lasting, and they can carry these memories through thick and thing, sorrow and joy."