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BU choir joins the Rolling Stones in unlikely pairing

Boston University’s Marsh Chapel Choir performed with the Rolling Stones for their classic "You Can’t Always Get What You Want."

Boston University’s Marsh Chapel Choir performed with the Rolling Stones for their classic "You Can’t Always Get What You Want."

Boston University’s Marsh Chapel Choir usually sings church music at nondenominational worship services. It specializes in Bach, the Anglican choral tradition, and music from the Renaissance, and the audience rarely tops 200. None of whom are sweating and screaming.

But this week the staid choir was on stage at TD Garden in front of 12,000 out-of-their-minds Rolling Stones’ fans, standing alongside Mick Jagger in his shimmering shirt. When the spotlight landed on the choir, its members broke into the a capella opening of the Stones’ classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

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The choir had never been this far from Bach in its life. But in a city known as much for its classical music history as for its rock ’n’ roll muscle, the merging of the two on one stage was an unlikely triumph for both worlds.

“I never had that feeling before,” said Bethany Saul, a soprano in the choir. “The noise of the crowd was still the loudest sound I ever heard. It vibrates through your body.”

The unusual stage pairing, which happens again Friday, is something the Stones are doing throughout their silver anniversary “50 And Counting” tour as a way for the band to connect each concert with the fans in that community. By choosing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the band joins forces with a local choir to handle the opening and to come back in later during the song.

The chapel’s musical director, Scott Allen Jarrett, said the crowd went nuts at the mere sight of the choir.

“As soon as a choir comes out on stage,” he said, “the audience knows what’s coming. They erupted.”

Jarrett is not sure why his choir was chosen by the Stones, but he suspects that its Bach focus and strong soprano section helped. The opening of the song requires an ability to hit some high notes.

“It’s all word of mouth,” he said. “A representative of the band told me, ‘You have a great choir that sings with the right kind of sound that we’re looking for.’ ”

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was first recorded by the Stones in 1967, with the London Bach Choir handling the opening, but the band had never used a choir live until last November in London. The band’s music director, Matt Clifford, has said it was so successful the band members agreed to do it throughout their tour. In Los Angeles, it was the Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir, and in Chicago earlier this month, it was the Music Conservatory Chorus from Roosevelt University.

Jarrett got his call six weeks ago, just as the choral season was winding down, and BU students were getting ready to go home for the summer. Fortunately, many of the group’s 50 members were still in Boston.

He sent out the music three weeks ago to the 24 choir members who were slated to perform. But the singers rehearsed together only once before Wednesday’s concert.

“Every night, when I was cooking pasta or stir-fry for dinner, I put it on repeat and sang it over and over again,” said Saul, who is originally from Sheffield, England, and will graduate in 2014 with a degree in international relations.

By the time she rehearsed with the group, she felt ready. And then all that was left was the sound check right before the show, which for some members was almost as exciting as the concert itself.

“That was the highlight of my day,” said Brenna Wells, another choir member. “Being onstage with the Rolling Stones with no one else around you. They didn’t seem like they were brushing off the sound check, or phoning it in. They gave it their full attention. “

Once the concert began, the choir members had to be patient. The Stones played their full set list, and when it was time for an encore, that was the choir’s cue. The members were broken up into two groups, 12 on each side, the men in black pants and black button-down shirts, the women in black dresses, and when the lights came up, they began to sing.

For the choir, it was nothing like singing a Bach cantata in a church. But being surrounded by their fellow singers was a comforting feeling.

“We do high-art classical music,” Jarrett said. “The fact that we can do what we did last night speaks well of our community’s versatility.”

And they will do it one more time.

“I am really looking forward to Friday,” Saul said. “I am going to be just as excited to do it all over again.”

Choral music, she said, doesn’t bring that many people out.

“You don’t get cheers like that at classical music concerts.”

Benjamin Soloway can be reached at benjamin. soloway@globe.com.
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