Municipal Training Board Members to Serenade NYC with Carnegie Hall Performance

April 5, 2024

By Aileen Harris

When Municipal Training Board Member Mara Shaw heard fellow Board Member Jonathan Sumner’s soaring tenor singing the national anthem at GMA’s 2023 Cities United Summit in Atlanta, her jaw dropped.

Photo of Mara Shaw and Jonathan Sumner
Mara Shaw and Jonathan Sumner

“I’ve known Jonathan for years—since he was a graduate research assistant at Valdosta State University,” said Shaw, the Associate Director of Governmental Training, Education, and Development at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. “I never knew he had such a beautiful voice. I was blown away.”

Shaw worked for 17 years as assistant to then Valdosta city manager Larry Hanson (and now GMA CEO and Executive Director) and would often cross paths with Sumner after he became the city manager in Hahira.

“Our cities were in the same county, and we often had to work on something together, like service delivery agreements,” Shaw recalled. “But we never crossed paths outside of work.”

Now, the two have been rehearsing for several months outside of work as they prepare to make their debuts at New York City’s historic and prestigious Carnegie Hall on June 1 as part of a concert performance with the Athens Master Chorale, a non-profit, select 50+ member, volunteer concert choir based in Athens that Shaw has sung with since 2017 and recruited Sumner to last year.

“As soon as Jonathan finished singing the national anthem, I rushed over to him and said, ‘You need to come to Carnegie Hall with us,’” Shaw said.

Ever the calm city manager, Sumner considered the opportunity for a bit. “Friends encouraged me to go,” Sumner said. So, I agreed and signed on.”

After a successful audition, Sumner joined the master chorale in the spring, and rehearsals started in the fall. He rehearses with the chorale for three hours a month via Zoom, avoiding the nearly four-hour car ride from Hahira to Athens.

The June 1 concert will see the Athens Master Chorale, directed by Joseph Napoli, joined by singers from 13 states and accompanied by the New England Symphonic Ensemble to perform Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K.626.

Photo of Carnegie Hall in New York
Carnegie Hall in New York

Both Shaw and Sumner have sung since they were young. While their thriving local government careers have taken precedence over any ambitions of singing careers, their passion for music is palpable.

“I am thrilled to sing; I enjoy it so much,” Sumner beamed. “I hope to be able to do it however I can and whenever I can.”

Shaw explained, “Choir rehearsal is Monday nights for two hours; it’s therapeutic because you can’t think about anything else but the music while you are singing.”  

Both are ecstatic about the opportunity to perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterpiece at Carnegie’s Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.

“I’ve never been to Carnegie Hall or New York City,” Sumner said, who plans to take his wife and children on the trip with him. “I am stoked to go. I don’t get to sing a lot in my professional life. Singing is an opportunity to connect with the people around me in a different way.”

Shaw chuckles at the memory of quitting piano lessons only to hear a familiar refrain from her mother.

“I was tired of practicing the piano,” she said, “and my mom told me I would never make it to Carnegie Hall if I didn’t continue my piano lessons.”

Weeks from now and no doubt to her mother’s delight, Shaw will fulfill a dream for both when she performs on one of the world’s most celebrated stages.

“This is a big deal,” Shaw said. “For me, it is the top of the mountain.”

Mozart Requiem, Carnegie Hall, New York City, June 1, 2024, 8 p.m., Tickets start at $28. Visit: for more information.

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