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When A Choir Director Gets A Call From The Rolling Stones

An image of the Duke Vespers Ensemble Choir
Duke Chapel
Duke Vespers Ensemble

When Duke Vespers Ensemble Director Brian Schmidt told his choir they would be singing with the Rolling Stones during the band's concert Wednesday at Raleigh’s Carter-Finley Stadium, he was prompted with one question:


“Are you serious?”

Schmidt said in his years working with the choir, he has never seen an announcement cause so much shock. Schmidt admits he was also a little surprised when he got the phone call.


“I am a classical musician who has worked in churches and universities, and you are never really prepared for a call from the Rolling Stones,” he said.

The Duke Vespers Ensemble specializes in “early music,” or Renaissance-era sacred music. The Stones, on the other hand, are a rock band from the U.K. who made it big in the 1960s. The two groups look like opposites on paper, but Schmidt said the beauty is that both seem to appeal to a broad range of people.


The choir will join the rock band on stage to sing backup on one of the group’s classic hits. Schmidt said his ensemble knows the song, but is sworn to secrecy-  and the mystery is fueling Schmidt's excitement.


“It’s exciting to be around people who have been doing this for so long, and there has been no falter in the quality of music,” Schmidt said. “I am 35 years old and I think I am a professional, but if I am at their age and still performing like that it will be amazing.”

The choir will not rehearse with the band until Wednesday, the day of the concert. Schmidt said he is eager to observe how musicians who do something totally different from him operate on stage. Until then, his ensemble is breaking down the Stones’ song so they don’t miss a beat with Mick Jagger.

“We’re saying, ‘Here is the piece and here is how we make it sound good so we can hit the stage with them at the same level of professionalism,'" he said. “The whole choir is so elated to have such an opportunity. It is really exciting whenever you get these chances to step outside from what you normally do.”

Below is a video of clips from Duke Vespers Ensemble performances:

And here is a video promoting the Rolling Stone's Zip Code tour in 15 different cities, including Raleigh. It has a different vibe than the Vespers Ensemble performance. Note that nobody in the band is wearing a robe, yet guitarist Keith Richards has been known to have a wardrobe that is out of the ordinary:

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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