The University of St. Thomas Chamber Singers traveled to Chicago on March 9-12 to perform at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association. One of five mixed college and university ensembles chosen by blind audition from more than 75 colleges and universities that submitted recordings, the UST Chamber Singers performed at Symphony Hall and the auditorium at Roosevelt University. More than 5,000 choral conductors of all levels from across the United States and abroad attended this year’s convention.
Preparations for the 25-minute concert began in June 2010 when Dr. Angela Broeker, director of choral activities, started her research for repertoire that would be included in the choir’s performance. The choir began preparing as soon as school began in September and worked diligently through February, adding Sunday evening rehearsals to their regularly scheduled rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The program included: a Renaissance chanson accompanied by two recorder players and guitarist Dr. Christopher Kachian; a Renaissance Italian madrigal; a contemporary Lithuanian selection accompanied by three percussionists; two recorder players and two melodica players; a piece by 20th-century French-Canadian composer Lionel Daunais; a comical piece by Cuban composer Ferrar; and an arrangement of “Down in the River to Pray” by Jay Broeker, accompanied by UST’s own bluegrass Show’d Up Band.
The Chamber Singers “worked as diligently as any choir I’ve ever conducted,” reported Broeker, “and did so with a continued sense of joy.” Through snowstorms, fatigue and illness, choristers persevered, memorizing all repertoires and polishing all aspects of the performance – including stage presence. After a send-off concert in UST’s Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 8, the choir felt ready to represent the university in a national forum.
Both performances in Chicago were met with immediate, standing ovations and cheers, a seldom-seen occurrence at the national level. Comments by many directors after the concert included praise for the musical artistry of the ensemble as well as their engaging joyful presence.
Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt, director of choral activities at the University of Toronto, wrote, “I thought your group’s performance at ACDA was wonderful; it was so well thought out, flowed beautifully and was sung with great sensitivity. The programming was creative and interesting, and the singers were really engaged, obviously capturing the audience's attention.” James Rodde, director of choral activities at Iowa State University, wrote that he is now a “big fan” of the choral program at UST.
For the St. Thomas students, the Chicago experience created lifelong memories. “Before this trip,” writes senior psychology major Heather Bartlett, “I didn’t think it was possible for me to love my choir family any more than I already did. Somehow, Chicago changed that. My heart is so full right now.”
Sophomore music education major Richard Shallbetter adds, “I can safely say that Thursday, March 10, 2011, was the happiest day that I have lived, between two outstanding choral performances at a once-in-a-lifetime conference, personal developments and multiple windows of opportunity being thrust wide open. There is love in this choir that transcends mere companionship. We truly are a family, and I’m as grateful as a young man could be to be a part of it.”
Chamber Singers now set their sights on two spring concerts: a student-led and directed musical theater concert on April 30 and May 1, and its annual spring concert with the UST Concert Choir on May 5.