Stony Brook students perform at inauguration festival

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WASHINGTON -- The voices of 16 Stony Brook students rang powerfully through a church in the nation's capitol yesterday, filling the cavernous space from its stone floors to its vaulted ceilings.

The Stony Brook School Chamber Singers, performing as part of inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama, sang first in Swahili, with one student playing the djembe drum. Later, they delivered a sophisticated spin on nursery rhymes, lending a mature sound to "Old King Cole," "Ba Ba Black Sheep" and other songs in their "Mother Goose Magicals" set.

"We chose them for their variety," Sydney Braat, 16, of Westhampton Beach, said. The songs "represent the best of our group and what we can do."

Though many of the chamber singers -- high school students at the Christian boarding and day school -- are from Long Island, others are from Saudi Arabia, China, Hungary and Tanzania.

Madison Rylands, 17, of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, said singing "is how we all connect. We wouldn't necessarily talk if it wasn't for choir. It brings us all together."

The students auditioned to earn the privilege to perform in Washington.

They received resounding applause for their performance Saturday at the National City Christian Church. They were the only New York group at the World Strides Heritage Performance inauguration festival this weekend.

"I'm really proud of them," said their director Dustin Ramirez, who has taught performance arts at The Stony Brook School for three years. "They did a great job. This is one of the bigger performance opportunities since I've been here." The students worked hard at rehearsals "and it paid off," he said.

Matthew Hollis, 16, of East Setauket, who played the djembe drum at the church, had advice for aspiring musicians: "Don't hold back."

The students had toured the city's memorials earlier Saturday. They planned to visit the Smithsonian museums Sunday. On Monday, at Obama's swearing-in ceremony, the students will be in the audience.

They called the opportunity to witness Obama's inauguration "surreal" and "once-in-a-lifetime." They said they planned to dress warmly, take lots of pictures and have fun.

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