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Charleroi singer's career hits high note

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 5:38 p.m.
Stephen Dragan (left) and his Mendelfriends (from left) Jonathan MacDonald, Kyle Duff, Dave George Gordon, Bethann Dilione and Emily Stewart hang out at the PPG Place ice rink in Pittsburgh. The group got together after a two-week stretch of rehearsals just to blow off some steam.
Members of the Mendelssohn Choir perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Scratch this one from Steve Dragan's bucket list.

No stranger to the stage, Charleroi resident Dragan knows what it's like to be in front of an audience.

Beginning with the Children's Festival Chorus at Duquesne University to Pittsburgh's Junior Mendelssohn Choir to several prominent roles at Trinity High School in Washington, Pa., including the Tin Man in “Oz;” Oliver in “Oliver,” Sid in “The Pajama Game” and Perchik in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Dragan, 28, is accustomed to the long hours of rehearsals, performances and stage lights.

But when the 100-plus member Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony on May 10 in New York City's fabled Carnegie Hall, the epic experience Dragan anticipated more than lived up to its advance billing.

“I had never been there and, with my musical background, it certainly was a bucket-list item,” Dragan said. “New York definitely was the epic experience I expected.”

But with his musical background, what about any jitters regarding performing in such a hallowed hall?

“As far as jitters go, it was more of an excitement,” Dragan said after the performance. “Honestly, I have never been one to get very nervous, but there definitely was a great anticipation leading up to the performance. However, I have to add it is much less stressful when you are performing with a group of individuals as talented as the other members of the choir.”

Plus, being a self-proclaimed history buff, Dragan couldn't help but explain about and admire the majestic nature of the hall itself.

“It was a pleasure thinking about the history that exists there, especially being that Andrew Carnegie, with such historical and cultural ties to Pittsburgh, was the one responsible for its construction in 1891,” he said.

Performing with the internationally acclaimed Pittsburgh Symphony, the theme for the concert was religious, Dragan noted, adding that maestro Manfred Honeck is a very devout Catholic. Thus the pieces were chosen to represent Mozart and how Mozart wrote some of the most religious music of his time. Among the pieces were Mozart's “Requiem,” “Ave Maria” by Anton Bruckner and several other religious pieces.

And the performance itself?

In a word, “stunning,” Dragan said. “Everyone was on a different level and certainly rose to the occasion. I must say we did the audience, the incredible literature, the hall and ourselves justice in the program. We performed the last concert in a series that Carnegie Hall called ‘Spring for Music,' a four-year series that we were selected to close. It was both an honor and humbling to be chosen for such an opportunity.”

For Dragan, who graduated from Trinity and St. Vincent College in Unity and whose father and grandfather grew up in Charleroi, music remains an outlet, a hobby. But if he had his druthers, he laughed, he would play the piano and violin and be the next Billy Joel. Music is an avocation, something he enjoys. When he is not rehearsing with and performing with the Mendelssohn Choir, he spends time on a family farm near Washington, producing hay, and enjoys his biggest vice, antique cars. By occupation, he is involved with marketing activities for Mon Valley Hospital.

Completing her eighth year as music director of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, Betsy Burleigh, chairwoman of the Choral Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, commutes to Pittsburgh weekly to work with the Mendelssohn Choir and has worked with Dragan during his three years in the program.

“Steve sang in high school and has continued his musical career with, first, our junior choir, and now with the choir itself,” said Burleigh, a native of Vermont. “He is a member of our tenor section and has a wonderful, natural voice. He combines talent and enthusiasm, and brings a wonderful spirit to the group. We are happy to have him as a member of the Mendelssohn Choir. It is a joy to work with singers such as Steve.”

With what remains on Dragan's bucket list, he reaffirmed the significance of being a member of the Mendelssohn Choir, the chorus of choice of the Pittsburgh Symphony, adding, “It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of and perform with the Mendelssohn Choir. It is fantastic to be able to say that this is what I do in my spare time.”

And since Dragon is able to scratch performing in Carnegie Hall from his bucket list, what's left?

“There are still a few items remaining,” he laughed, including, but not limited to, standing on one of the pyramids at Giza, Egypt; attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Oktoberfest in Munich, and being in Rome for Easter; write/perform a song that makes it to the Billboard Top 40; go out for a beverage with Sidney Crosby, Marc Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal; have dinner with a sitting U.S. president; walk at least one daughter down the aisle; and sing the national anthem at a Penguins game.

“Now, where do I begin?” he asked.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.