Two Bradford County natives rock Carnegie Hall Sayre, Canton grads perform at January invitational
Two Bradford County natives recently shared one of the nation's most renowned stages, performing during a January invitational at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Sarah Polinski of Sayre, a sophomore music education student at Mansfield University, performed with the university's Concert Choir during the Performing Arts Educators Eighth Invitational, held Jan. 18. During the performance, Polinski sang a solo in the American folk hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?"
The same concert featured the Bullis School Chamber Singers of Potomac, Md., directed by Jason Carunchia-Strunk, a 1992 graduate of Canton Area High School.
To perform at the invitational, this year themed "World Voices in Motion," interested organizations had to submit auditions, said Polinski's father, Daniel Polinski. Only a select group of ensembles were selected, including the Mansfield choir, directed by Dr. Peggy Dettwiler.
When a spot opened up in this year's program, Dettwiler recommended Strunk's group to fill it, said Strunk, himself a Mansfield graduate.
While Strunk is now far removed from his small-town upbringing in Grover, he says it was his experiences in Canton that shaped his love for the arts.
His middle school choral teacher, Beverly Madigan, recommended him for junior high county chorus in the seventh grade, sparking a passion for music. "I totally fell in love with it," he said.
Strunk also credited the late Rev. David Morris, who organized several musical and arts opportunities for youth in the Canton area, with encouraging his participation in the arts. Morris "was such a transformative figure in my life," he said. "In Canton, the arts were so appreciated," he said.
Music quickly became a way of life for Strunk, who participated in plays and marching band in high school and studied music at Mansfield under Dettwiler.
After completing some graduate work in Cincinnati, Strunk took a job in Hagerstown, Md., then performed full-time in Washington, D.C.'s theatre scene and taught voice lessons.
From there, he took a long-term substitute position at Bullis School, a private college preparatory school for students in second through 12th grades, where he discovered a love for teaching and working with the school's choral ensembles.
Strunk applied for and received the choral director position when it opened up. In his seven years at Bullis, he's built the choral program from 28 students to 70 in the high school and over 120 at the middle school level, he said.
Strunk's aim at Bullis is "to produce lifelong lovers of music," he said. Several of his students have gone on to perform in choirs at top universities.
Both Polinski and Strunk said performing on the world-famous stage was the chance of a lifetime. Since its opening in 1891, Carnegie Hall has hosted a revolving door of famous musicians, from the world's top classical acts and orchestras to The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan.
"This experience has been a lifelong dream," Polinski said. "All those years of excitement led up to that moment, and I simply let that passion sound through my voice."
Polinski, who participated twice at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Choral Festival during her time at Sayre High School, called singing at Carnegie Hall under Dettwiler an honor. "She is the essence of grace and a master of her craft," she said.
Polinski's parents were also proud to witness the concert. "Seeing her singing a solo on that stage was definitely a parental high point," Daniel Polinski said.
Strunk, meanwhile, said he was overwhelmed by the opportunity to both contribute to and receive the history of the Carnegie Hall stage. "It was such a humbling experience," he said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.