November 20, 2023

From Charlotte Choir School Alumni to Charlotte Choir School Parent, A Story of a Family Tradition ft. Hilary Herndon

Staff member, Hunter Rigsby
It’s a torch I’ve been as excited to pass to him as he’s been to receive it, so it was really special for both of us.

Former chorister and now Charlotte Choir School parent of three, Hilary Herndon recently experienced a full circle moment as her eldest son took the stage for his first MasterSingers concert, a moment she experienced for herself nearly 17 years prior.

This is just one of many fond memories to come to mind for Hilary as she now gets to enjoy seeing her three sons sing the songs, learn the lessons, and make the music she once did at their age in the very same program. We caught up with Hilary to ask her more about this.

Does music and singing run in your family?

Music runs in the family. My grandparents were symphony musicians, and as long as I can remember my family has sung hymns and danced around to arias in the kitchen after dinner.

What years were you in the program?

I joined Charlotte Choir School when I was 12 back in 2004 as a member of the Girls Tour Choir, and graduated out of MasterSingers in 2009.

Which choirs were you a part of?

Girls Tour Choir Fall 2004 - Spring 2006, MasterSingers Fall 2006 - Spring 2009

What led you to join the program?

My siblings and I loved singing together and our mom wanted to make sure we had the best music education around. She found Charlotte Choir School back when it was still The Boys and Girls Choirs at St. Peters. At first, only my older sister auditioned. She was one of the first Mastersingers. When I saw her sing in a Christmas concert, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. My brother and I auditioned the next year, and the rest is history. My siblings loved Charlotte Choir School, but their pursuit of other musical endeavors prevented them from staying all the way through high school. They both have successful fine arts careers thanks in part to their time spent at Charlotte Choir School. I chose to raise a family, but I was no less impacted by my experiences in the program!

Tell us about your choristers — How many do you have in the program currently and which choirs are they in?

I currently have three children in Charlotte Choir School. Anthony, my oldest, first joined the Town Choir in 2019 and is currently enjoying his first season as a member of the MasterSingers. My other two sons, Levi and Emmett, are in the Boys Tour Choir.

How do you feel music impacts your family?

I think music helps our family to reset moods and process emotions. We almost always have some kind of music playing at home, and usually, it’s something classical, choral, or musical theater-related. It definitely makes us all feel more positive, focused, and content.

Did you always plan to enroll your children once they were of age? Or what was the thought process there?

When I gave her my name on the phone, her first words were, “I wondered when we would hear from you!”

I had always considered enrolling my own kids in the program, but while they were still really young it wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to. I did attend the 20-year spring concert celebration where alumni were invited up to sing The Lord Bless You and Keep You (a choir school tradition). No one ever forgets that piece, it stays in your heart forever as a nostalgic reminder of all the music you made together with your peers. I had just had a baby only three weeks before the concert, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to go hear the choirs sing and get to sing with them again myself. I walked to the front with baby Levi in my arms, and sang. He likes to brag that he was in a concert with Charlotte Choir School before any of his siblings! Once Anthony was old enough, I gave Kay Johnson a call to schedule him an audition for the town choir. When I gave her my name on the phone, her first words were, “I wondered when we would hear from you!”

What was your favorite part about being in the program? Favorite memory? Favorite concert?

It’s hard to pick a favorite memory, we made so many! Every tour, every concert, I walked away with some kind of formative experience engraved on my soul. I passed out during my first tour concert, Derrick Goff caught me and Mrs. Johnson walked me off the stage. On my last tour, we pushed Mr. Outen into a hotel pool. I cried while learning Regina Caeli because it was so challenging, and while singing at Alex Taylor’s funeral, our fellow chorister and friend. I think my favorite part of being in the program was truly the music we made together. There’s something transcendental about creating an experience larger than yourself that is capable of impacting people so deeply.

Is there one thing you still refer back to or use in your life today that you learned from your time being a chorister?

Charlotte Choir School taught me to challenge myself, set the bar high, and rise to the occasion.

There are SO many things I still use in my life that I learned in Charlotte Choir School! Besides the musical knowledge, I gained responsibility and poise through the expectations of being a chorister and representing something larger than myself. I gained knowledge and experiences on tour that helped me to navigate life independently. Charlotte Choir School taught me to challenge myself, set the bar high, and rise to the occasion. That’s helped me with countless obstacles in life. I’ve learned to face things with determination, and always with a song in my heart.

What is it like being a CCS parent now to your choristers?

If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say surreal. As I’m writing this, my kids are singing Christmas carols while they clean up after dinner. My home is always full of song, and seeing the boys enjoying something that I too enjoyed so deeply gives me an empathetic kind of joy. I’ve felt what they’re experiencing and I couldn’t be happier that they get to experience it too.

What is one thing you hope for your children to get out of being in the program?

I hope they get the tools to succeed at whatever they want in life, and I’m confident they will. Anthony wants to be a composer and a choir director. There’s no better place for him to be to gain the skills for either of those careers.

What do you look forward to the most as a CCS parent?

I actually recently got to see something I’ve been looking forward to for years. Anthony sang his first concert as a Mastersinger. I don’t know if this holds true for all alumni, but I feel like I was just a Mastersinger yesterday. Seeing my son on stage in his tuxedo, making such beautiful music with his peers, was just magical. It also made me feel a little bit ancient! It’s a torch I’ve been as excited to pass to him as he’s been to receive it, so it was really special for both of us.

What are your hopes for the program overall? Thoughts? Impressions?

Overall, the program has stayed true to its roots and honored its traditions. The quality of instruction and standards are excellent and unwavering. I hope that many more generations of choristers get to learn and grow through Charlotte Choir School.

Anything else you would like to mention?

As an Alumni, I’ve told friends about how incredible Charlotte Choir School is, but it’s hard to convey just how deep of an impact it made in my life. I sometimes compare it to the Pixar movie, Inside Out. Charlotte Choir School is one of my “pillars of personality” and it hasn’t crumbled with time. Walking up the median from the parking deck, hearing the swoops and warm-ups from the choir room, these are core memories that I’m so glad I carry with me, and I couldn’t be happier that my kids will, too.

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Attending a Concert

Whether you’ve been attending Charlotte Choir School concerts for years, or this will be your first time, we want you to enjoy yourself and support our singers as a comfortable member of our audience. Here are some frequently asked questions about the concert-going experience that may help.

When do I applaud?

Our choirs love an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, so we encourage your applause. Please hold any applause during short pauses between movements or sections of longer pieces. Once a complete piece has ended, your applause is greatly appreciative. A standing ovation for our final curtain call is always appreciated, too!

May I bring food and beverages?

Food or beverage is not permitted in our main stage venue, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Please respect the sanctity of our founding partner’s worship space.

What if I arrive late?

Concerts begin promptly at the announced starting time. Latecomers and those who leave the venue before or during a work will be seated at the first appropriate break in the program.

When should I arrive?

Please consider how long it will take you to park, walk to our venue, check in, and have a moment before the show to familiarize yourself with the program and relax. We suggest you arrive at the venue at least 20 minutes before showtime.

Can I bring my cell phone or camera?

Yes, cell phones and cameras are allowed. However, we require that you turn off all cell phones, cameras, pagers, beeping watches, and other electronic devices before the performance begins — and that you check to see that they are again turned off after any intermission.Audience members may take photographs before and after the concert. Please note, however, that no photography or recording of any kind is permitted during the performance. Anyone seen using a camera, smart phone, or other device for these activities will be asked to leave.

How long are your concerts?

Our main stage concerts are about 90 minutes and are generally presented without an intermission.

Where do I get my tickets?

Tickets are sold on our website and all tickets are delivered by email to the purchaser. We do not have a will call, and your ticket (printed or on device) must be presented for proof at the venue.

Where do I park?

For main stage concerts at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church or First United Methodist Church, free parking is provided in the TransAmerica Square parking garage on Seventh Street. Enter on Seventh just west of Tryon and bring your ticket with you to the show for validation.

What should I wear?

You’re Uptown for a concert in Charlotte — have fun! But there’s no need to stress. Business or business casual works for all main stage concerts. Most importantly, we want you to be comfortable.

What if I know nothing about choral music and your repertoire?

That’s okay! We perform sacred and secular choral music with a repertoire that features a mix of accessible, familiar choral works, and some pieces you may not expect. You don’t need to know anything about our repertoire to enjoy our concerts. We will publish the concert program in advance, with information about the composers featured and pieces to be performed. We’ll also include links to Spotify and Apple Music where you can hear some pieces in commercial recordings. Elizabeth Lenti, our Artistic Director, also offers program notes from the stage with information on what to listen for in a piece.