By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend
It was not until the lights came on that Elizabeth Seng fully realized the significance of the moment.
Behind her was a jumbotron. In front stood a multi-platinum singer-songwriter. Beyond him was a crowd of thousands of people.
Seng, a senior psychology major at Penn State Behrend, has made many memories in her four years at the college, but performing alongside Barry Manilow as part of the Choirs of Penn State Behrend might take the cake.
“We were out on the stage, and then they shined the lights on us,” said Seng, a Seattle native who has been a regular member of the choir during her time at the college. “There were all these people there, and it was just really exhilarating. It was probably my most memorable experience I’ve had here at Behrend.”
Manilow invited the Behrend Choirs to perform alongside him at his April 25 concert at Erie Insurance Arena. Tone-Acious, Penn State Behrend’s student a cappella club, joined the choir for the performance, which was part of Manilow’s “One Last Time!” tour.
“This was a really unique opportunity, and it highlighted Behrend’s arts offerings in front of a huge audience,” said Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles at the college. “It also provided a fun and highly motivating year-end experience for our students.”
“When I found out, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you serious?’” Seng said. “It just felt so special to think that Barry Manilow thought we were good enough to be a part of his concert.”
The choirs’ performance was especially meaningful because they joined him for the three final songs of the concert, which were amongst his greatest hits: “Copacabana,” “Miracle” and “I Write the Songs.”
The day of the concert, the choirs arrived at the arena at 3:30 p.m. and practiced before going on stage at 9:30 p.m.
“We were sent to holding rooms in which they had us practice a lot and learn the choreography,” said Taylor May, a junior software engineering major and member of both the Behrend Choirs and Tone-Acious. “We even ran through it once on the stage with the soundtrack, but thankfully we got to relax a bit before the concert.”
To honor the occasion, choristers created “Behrend Hearts Barry” t-shirts which they wore under their gowns during the concert. They even gave an extra t-shirt to Manilow as a memento.
The shirts are a reminder of what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the choristers.
“Before you knew it, you could see the streamers (coming down from the ceiling), and that was it. It just went by so fast,” Seng said. “To be part of one of his final tours was just really, really cool. I’ll remember it forever.”