When Scott Jarrett arrived at TD Garden for the Boston stop of the Rolling Stones 50 & Counting tour, he was able to declare, accurately and proudly, “I’m with the band.” Thanks to a serendipitous series of events and the close-knit nature of the choral community, Boston University’s Marsh Chapel Choir, directed by Jarrett, was accorded the rare privilege of accompanying the Stones on their iconic anthem You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Originally recorded with London’s Bach Choir for the 1969 album Let It Bleed, the song has become one of the band’s most recognized and is featured in the current tour of ten North American cities. At each stop, the band is teaming with a local choir to perform the song. The 2013 tour marks the first time the Stones have performed it with a live choir, and fans are forking over as much as $500 for tickets.
The campus-based choir, which includes professional singers as well as students, alumni, and Boston residents, goes on tour every year and has recently graced stages in San Francisco, New York, and Montreal. But to sing with the Stones in front of nearly nineteen thousand people is a gig beyond his wildest imagination, says Jarrett, who couldn’t wait to share the news with his 60-year-old father. The elder Jarrett was part of the Stones’ original fan base. “My dad was completely beside himself. He said, ‘You never cease to amaze me.’”
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, which begins with an a cappella choir section and is punctuated with high Cs, is not easy to sing. With just three weeks’ notice, Jarrett had to put together a group of twenty-four singers, heavy on sopranos, find a conductor to lead half the choir, and negotiate a contract. Students had already gone their separate ways for the summer, but Jarrett had no problem finding the two dozen singers. Those singers, in two groups of twelve, took their places on either side of the TD Garden stage. “I still haven’t completely processed it, to be honest,” says Bethany Saul. Saul, who is from Sheffield, England, says friends and family back home were shocked at the news. “It’s so outside the realm of anything I’ve ever done.”
For the Las Vegas stop, the Stones were joined by the Green Valley High School Choir, and in Toronto the performance featured the Cawthra Park Secondary School Chamber Choir. “I got an email from a woman from Cambridge, England, who’s been the person scouting for choirs for this tour,” says Jarrett. “She said our name came to her attention.” The choir will receive what Jarrett describes as a “nice check,” which will underwrite its visit to New York City for next year’s Bach Experience.
Jarrett and his singers aren’t exactly immersed in the music of the Stones, whose ages run from 65 (Ronnie Wood) to 69 (Mick Jagger). But when you consider their remarkable staying power, “who isn’t a Rolling Stones fan?” says Jarrett. “These guys have been playing this music for fifty years – that’s remarkable. It’s a miracle.” One younger student, he says, did ask whether the group “started that magazine.” But when he told choir members about the historic opportunity, the general reaction was, “You’re joking.”
One person who was mightily impressed was Jarrett’s close friend John Paulsen, who was Marsh Chapel assistant choral conductor a decade ago and met his wife in the choir. Jarrett, godfather to the Paulsens’ son, asked his friend to conduct with him on the TD Garden stage. “He’s completely thrilled; he knows the music backwards and forwards,” says Jarrett, describing Paulsen, in his early 40s, as “eighty percent classical musician” and twenty percent rock musician.
Jarrett, Paulsen, and the twenty-four singers arrived at TD Garden, met with the Rolling Stones musical director and rehearsed a bit, after which they did a run-through with the band. For the performance, the choir wore headpieces with earbuds, their first experience with live tracking technology. Jarrett thought it would be fun to don their usual choir robes, but “they wanted us in all black, young, hip, and sexy,” he says.
Perhaps the most triumphant moment, higher than those high Cs, was the choir’s introduction by the man himself, Sir Mick Jagger. “It’s kind of cool; they confirmed our names and the ensemble’s name so Mick could announce us on stage,” says Jarrett, who says he has great respect for Jagger. “He sounds great – it’s really inspiring. I hope that I’ll be waving my arms around making music when I’m that age.” For the students, he adds, the performances were a chance to “connect with a sound and a cultural force that shaped several generations and changed social dialogue.”
And they’ll have quite a story for their future grandchildren.
Susan Seligson – BU Today