Northwestern students to perform in backup choir for pop star Josh Groban

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Summer Editor

Two Northwestern students will sing in a backup chorus for Josh Groban on Saturday evening at the Ravinia Festival.

Bienen junior Jimmy Reese and Ryan Townsend Strand, a voice and opera graduate student, will perform in three songs for the pop music star at the Highland Park, Ill., music festival. The chorus includes 10 other singers from the Apollo Chorus of Chicago.

“It’s not every day that you get to sing with a household name onstage,” Strand said.

Groban’s show at the Ravinia’s 3,400-seat Pavilion is sold out. The ensemble will contribute to Groban’s hit song “You Raise Me Up,” as well as “Brave” and “I Believe.”

Strand and Reese learned of the performance opportunity this week from Bienen Prof. Stephen Alltop, who was asked by the concert’s presenter to assemble a group to perform with Groban.

“He came to me to ask for a choral ensemble, and we have qualified students,” said Alltop, who is also music director and conductor of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. “I have decided, because of the particular requirements of the presenters, to invite … our vocal students.”

Alltop gave music to the singers, and they have been memorizing it on their own. Alltop will conduct the chorus’ rehearsal Saturday morning at NU before a sound check with Groban in the afternoon and the evening concert.

“They’re sending us sheet music and sound files … so I’m trying to scramble and learn all of it,” Reese said. “We’re getting all kinds of logistical information, too. It’s a huge production.”

Strand said he hopes the experience will teach him about life as a singer.

“I’m really excited to be able to see what it’s like to be a performer at this level,” he said. “Hopefully at some point backstage I’ll be able to ask a question or two.”

Assistant summer editor Jeanne Kuang can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at