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Colonial Forge students to back up Foreigner in Fredericksburg
By Jonas Beals
For one song, a group of singers from Colonial Forge High School will have the best seats in the house during Friday’s Foreigner concert at Celebrate Virginia Live.
They will be on stage for ”I Want to Know what Love Is,” singing backup for the iconic rock band that reached its peak popularity in the 1970s and ’80s.
Foreigner likes to find an impromptu choir for each of its concerts, and frequently reaches out to local musicians with the help of the GRAMMY Foundation, a charity that supports music programs in schools.
After a few phone calls, Foreigner’s management got in touch with Barbara Perry, the choral director at Colonial Forge High School in Stafford County.
Even in the summer, she was able to round up an all-star group of 25 students and recent graduates.
“We’ve never sung with a rock band before,” she said. “It totally caught me off guard.”
Perry admitted to being a bit of a Foreigner fan, and thinks she might have seen them live when she was in high school.
She didn’t have to twist any arms to persuade her students to participate, but she did have to do some explaining for students who were born years after Foreigner’s last No. 1 hit, “I Don’t Want to Live Without You,” in 1988.
Rising junior Erika Ortner said Perry made her case by getting personal.
“You guys don’t understand,” Ortner recalled Perry saying. “They played this at my high school prom.”
Not that Ortner, 16, was unfamiliar with the tune. A Broadway buff, Ortner knew “I Want to Know What Love Is” from the musical “Rock of Ages.”
Brad Schrade, who graduated from Colonial Forge in June, is also a member of the choir that will perform alongside Foreigner. He has a leg up on Ortner, even if he isn’t that familiar with the band. He and other students sang the song in the Colonial Forge choir’s pop concert last year.
“I had kind of heard of them,” Schrade said of Foreigner. “But my mom was ecstatic. When she found out, she was extremely excited.”
Despite the generational enthusiasm gap for the music, the Colonial Forge Choir accepted the opportunity about a week ago. They practiced Monday, and Perry thinks that was all her group of talented vocalists needed.
Though her students are accustomed to working from sheet music, Foreigner simply sent them a CD and asked the group to figure out the harmonies themselves, something Ortner said they managed to do right away. It helped that many of the singers had sung the song before, and already knew the lyrics.
There is also a charitable component to the choir’s participation, and it’s something that impressed both Ortner and Schrade. Choir members will sell special Foreigner CDs before the show, with the proceeds set to benefit music programs at economically disadvantaged schools.
That, along with getting to perform on stage, is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” according to Schrade. But it might be something Schrade is simply too young to fully appreciate.
Ortner said her parents are already big fans of the band, and had purchased tickets to the show before she was involved in the performance.
“My parents are very, very excited,” Ortner said. “My parents actually know Foreigner. I don’t think it even matters that I’m there.”
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036