East Hampton Middle School ‘Bonnettes’ Shine At Empire State Building Performance


Dressed in their signature shade of hot pink, the East Hampton Middle School Bonnettes on Friday hit the Big Apple on a high note.

The audition-only all-girls’ choral group, composed of 30 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, left their classrooms behind that day and traveled into Manhattan, where they became the first choral group to sing at a new performance space at the Empire State Building, according to Melanie Mesiano, the middle school choral director.

“It was a very special performance,” Ms. Mesiano said in a phone interview on Monday. The highlight, she said, “was definitely the moment when we finished our first piece, and I turned around and saw all the families that had made the trip.”

Relatives and friends drove out from East Hampton and across the city, Westchester County and New Jersey to gather around the velvet ropes and risers to see the young singers shine.

The chorus, which won its spot on stage through an application process that included an audition tape, sang nine songs, a longer program than it typically performs, on the landmark building’s 80th floor. Because the building is federal, their program did not include Christmas or other holiday favorites, Ms. Mesiano said. Rather, they sang a varied selection that included “Blackbird” by The Beatles; their signature upbeat and catchy “Rockin’ Robin”; selections from the musical “Wicked” and Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” set to music, among others. They even danced to their final song, “Johnny One Note.”

The choral group, which is split roughly into equal numbers of sopranos and altos, sings in two- to three-part harmony.

“The girls are just very special children to be able to pull this off,” a proud Ms. Mesiano said. “They have a lot of heart and they just love to sing.”

Their joy of music then spreads to generations both younger and older who gather round to enjoy the show, she explained.

Auditions for the Bonnettes took place in September, meaning they had only a few months to prepare for this show, the first of its kind, its director said. Usually they do fewer songs, and have more time to practice, as their concerts are typically in the spring. And rehearsals take place only once a week, for 40 minutes, on Mondays after school.

“To keep them challenged is really the goal,” she said.

The first group of Bonnettes formed about seven years ago, when Ms. Mesiano arrived at the school and eyed talent. Having a select group of singers, she reasoned, would also be an advantage in securing special performances.

The chorus’s name draws from its local East Hampton “Bonac” roots and plays on the similarly named Ronettes, the all-female group of singers from the 1960s who sang such hits as “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You.”

The name stuck, and so did the girls’ uniforms of bright pink T-shirts, black skirts and tights and matching pink and black bows. And when it came time for the first note, they sang with joy.

“The sound of the place was just so clear, and the acoustics gave the kids such a special sound—different from when they perform in a concert,” Ms. Mesiano said.

After their program, they toured the iconic building, took in the view from the top and then took part in a class at a private dance studio, where they learned part of the Broadway show, “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” singing and dancing with cast members.

Following a family-style Italian dinner, they all took their seats on Broadway to see those same cast members in the actual show.

“You wouldn’t believe how much it adds to the students’ seeing the show when they take the class beforehand,” Ms. Mesiano said. “It adds a whole ‘nother level of engagement.”

Allison Sioriello, an alto in the Bonnettes and a sixth-grader, called the whole experience “really cool.”

“The songs that we did, everyone really liked them, so it was really fun,” she said, adding that it was her first time visiting the Empire State Building and touring the city. Her ears popped, she said, while riding the elevator to the top. It was “so cold” outside, she said, but from the top, she saw the Statue of Liberty and a vista that she had never seen before.

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