Foreigner exchange: Portland's Deering High School chorus helps legendary band rock the State

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PORTLAND — During its 38-year history, rock band Foreigner has cycled through dozens of members.

On Tuesday night, the group briefly gained another 24 when the Deering High School chorus joined their ranks for a sold-out show at the State Theatre.

John Lappen, head of marketing for Foreigner, said the band plays with local choirs at all of its shows. During the past six years, more than four hundred choirs have joined the band onstage for the same song – the 1984 chart-topper “I Wanna Know What Love Is” – which was originally recorded with the New Jersey Mass Choir.

The collaborations serve a greater purpose, Lappen said. It’s an effort to raise money for the GRAMMY Foundation, whose mission is to promote arts and music education.

“Some schools don’t have arts programs any more,” Lappen said Monday during a telephone interview. “We just found that to be unacceptable.”

At each city, the band asks student choirs to help sell copies of Foreigner’s greatest hits compilation before and after the shows. A portion of the money is then donated to the foundation. Lappen said he doesn’t know the exact amount, but it has been “tens of thousands” of dollars.

In many cities, schools compete for a chance to perform with the band, which also helps promote the show. In this case, however, the State sold out so quickly, additional promotion was unnecessary. Instead, Lappen contacted a few area high schools and gave the gig to Deering, the first school that replied.

The schools rehearse by singing along to a recording of the song. In most cases, the choirs don’t have an opportunity for a live rehearsal before showtime, Lappen said, which was the case for the Deering students.

On Tuesday night, toward the end of a 90-minute set that covered the band’s greatest hits from its 1980s heyday – “Juke Box Hero,” “Urgent,” “Hot Blooded” and the like – the 24-member chorus, dressed in matching black t-shirts, mounted the stage in front of 1,400 cheering fans.

Afterward, freshman Kodie Chontos stood alongside her classmates and hawked CDs as the crowd dispersed. She was still reeling from the experience, she said.

“It was crazy,” Chontos said. “That’s like the most people I’ve ever been in front of.”

Senior Nancy Unba said she was familiar with the band’s music long before the chorus began rehearsing last month. The song she helped perform is her favorite from the band’s canon, she said.

“The adrenaline was rushing through my veins,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe I was up there singing with Foreigner. ‘I sang with Foreigner.’ I can say that. ‘At the age of 18, I sang with Foreigner.'”

Even 30 years after the band last hit No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K. charts, their music is still ubiquitous, sophomore Will Weeks said.

“It’s all over the radio,” he said. “I love it.”

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Kelly Hansen, right, lead singer of rock band Foreigner, is accompanied by the Deering High School chorus in a performance of the band’s 1984 hit song “I Wanna Know What Love Is” during a sold-out show Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the State Theatre in Portland.

Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson during the band’s sold-out show Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the State Theatre in Portland.