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Thoughts on the Juniata Concert Choir

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Figure 1: I took the picture a bit late but the Choir received a standing ovation after their last song “Set me as a Seal.” Choir Alumni joined the current members for this last song.

This weekend was the Juniata College Concert Choir’s Spring performance. At this show they presented all the work they have been practicing and perfecting since January, all of which they performed on their recent domestic tour through Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. It featured traditional religious songs and several songs of Czech origin, two of which were written and composed by Antonin Dvorak. It was a moving auditory and even visual performance, and one that I will not soon forget.

I first heard the Concert Choir fifteen or so years ago when I was in kindergarten. The Shuler Theater in Raton, New Mexico, is run by a man named Bill Fegan, a Juniata Alumnus and a master at getting hard to get performances to come to a small middle-of-nowhere town. Bill managed to get the choir to swing through Raton on their Southwest domestic tour and although I don’t remember most of the performance there is one that stands out in my memory.

The choir had come down from the stage and had spread themselves out in front of and around either side of the audience. I don’t remember the song or even the tune, I just remember that even at such a young age I was in some sort of awe. I relived this awe this weekend as the choir neatly removed themselves from the stage and positioned themselves around the audience. The first song they sang in this formation was Remember Me. The Baritone’s deep voices perfectly balanced with the soprano’s high tones, and the Tenors and Altos blended it all together to make a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece. I don’t remember this song so much for the tune or even the words, but for the emotional response it brought. Throughout the entire piece I fought with being happy as it seemed that two souls were going their separate ways and moving on. But as the song went on, I realized that it was really someone saying goodbye for good, and the final line of “Remember me and be sad” hit home.

I have listened to a fair number of choirs during my life, but none so powerful as the Juniata Concert Choir. While many of them are wonderful singers, none except for their director Russell Shelley are what you would call professionals. Yet this group of young individuals comes together and manages to not only sing well but to also convey a breathtaking amount of emotion that caused the lady sitting behind me to exclaim “Oh, wow” after every song.

Halloweekend: A Musical

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This weekend was one of my busiest weekends I’ve had this semester. The day after Halloween, Juniata Concert Choir had their first concert of the school year and I was unprepared in more ways than one. My choir dress was too long, my music wasn’t memorized, and my other school work wasn’t done. Not only that—but I didn’t even have a Halloween costume! For the first time in a while, I feared the weekend rather than the week.

Just like I would with any other amount of excessive work at college, I took on this weekend one task at a time. First thing was getting my choir dress hemmed. I knew it was last minute, so I feared not finding anyone able to hem it in time. A friend and I went on a search all over town looking for someone who would hem our dresses in the very short time we had before the concert. Finally, in Altoona, a nearby city, we found a woman who does alterations in her home.

The next thing that needed to be done was school work. I wanted to be able to enjoy my Halloween, despite all the rehearsals and running around. So it was important to get all of my work out of the way as soon as possible. Even though it was tough to convince myself, I spent my Friday night knocking out remaining school work and memorizing music. Although it was not fun spending my Friday night in the dorm, it was extremely rewarding to be able to go out on Saturday night for Halloween with my friends. It was even more rewarding that I knew my music for the concert. And of course, after the concert on Sunday, I had nothing to worry about.

The concert on Sunday was, as always, the most rewarding experience. It is always wonderful to see how much hard work pays off. We made so many people laugh, cry, cheer, and even give us a standing ovation. It’s a memory that will forever be in my heart. So yeah, I had to drive all the way to Altoona and pay a strange woman to hem my dress poorly. And yeah, I had to spend a Friday night dedicated to homework and memorization. But in the end, it truly paid off to see the faces in the audience and the faces my director made at us when he was so proud of our progress. I look forward to many more experiences like this; it’s amazing to see what good can come from a little sacrifice and dedication.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Talent Show

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, Juniata College held a talent show to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Events like this are always great, since it’s interesting to see how talented some of my fellow students are. Before the event began, those running the event introduced the charity. The audience learned about Alex and her brave mission to help other children with cancer through money raised by a lemonade stand in her yard. People were so moved by her efforts that they began to take up the cause as well. As a sophomore in college with comparatively little hardship in my life, it’s incredibly sobering to hear about such a compassionate child helping other children fight the battle that she was also fighting. Further, if Alex were alive today she could have been a freshman in college.

Las Piedras, a group of friends who met on a trip to the Dominican Republic

Las Piedras, a group of friends who met on a trip to the Dominican Republic

The talent show itself featured students from all years and demonstrated a variety of ability. Some students chose to dance, such as Casey Anthony or the Juniata Kickline Dance Team. Many students chose to share their musical talents, whether through original, instrumental guitar playing or through playing an instrument and singing along. Liz Godusky played guitar and sang to “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Phillip Phillips, while Anna VanDusen and Devin Clark played ukuleles and sang a cover of “Hallelujah.” Las Piedras, a band of four students who met and bonded over a service trip to the Dominican Republic, played “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers, and Conor Austin and Katie Shelledy harmonized the lyrics. Elizabeth Fuhrman read a poem that she wrote about cancer and its impact, especially on children. I did not mention every performance, but everyone did really well.

Liz Godusky practices her song during rehearsal

Liz Godusky practices her song during rehearsal

While some of the songs may have had a sad tone, halfway through the event the organizers presented a slideshow of the lemon juice challenge, in which various students and faculty members were challenged to drink a small cup of lemon juice. Participants had their pictures taken when they were drinking the juice, and some of the facial expressions were really funny. The slideshow definitely lightened the mood and got people laughing.

Juniata students are often very intelligent, but also very creative. As someone with no musical talent at all, I am consistently blown away by the talent that my peer exhibit. This was a chance for students to showcase some of their singing, dancing, and instrumental abilities while also raising money for a great organization. Students were encouraged to donate based on their favorite acts, and while I do not have exact numbers, I think the event went really well and served as a reminder that Juniata is about more than simply academics.

Celebrating Culture and Diversity

Red Baraat performs at Juniata College

Red Baraat performs at Juniata College

For me, the car ride to Juniata College was not a long one, only about an hour and a half. Following US 22 you pass picturesque farm land, beautiful mountains, a few houses and arrive in a tiny little town. It is quiet and people were out and about on that warm afternoon. Huntingdon is in central PA, you can’t expect a city here, much night life or a mall. However, Huntingdon has something very interesting: a vibrant multicultural college, with a diverse student body. In the middle of central PA this much diversity is hard to find.

Besides the diversity of the student body, what is so unique about Juniata is how well all these cultures and ethnicities get along. Juniata creates a bonding experience that unites and celebrates the cultures that exist on campus, such as those of Pakistani students, Chinese Students, Vietnamese students, Australian students, and American students.

Juniata Presents, the organization that focuses on bringing art and culture to campus, does a good job at showcasing this diversity through unique musical acts. The Red Baraat and the Hot 8 Brass band, who recently performed on campus are two examples of this diversity. The Hot 8 Brass band represent the music scene in New Orleans. The southern flare, and trumpets are completely different from Red Baraat who has a more Indian hip hop feel to their music. The results are the same: students enjoy them.

Not every performance at Juniata is going to be a favorite of every single student, however the fact that this tiny little college in the middle of farm land central PA can bring these big name shows and allow students to experience these fun cultured performances for free, is a wonderful and transformative learning experience.

Here at Juniata culture is celebrated, and welcomed. It is something not only to be proud of but to be shared.

First Semester Survival Guide

TZ campus webIt’s that time of the season where the weeks are winding down and winter break is approaching. However, this is usually the time when everyone begins to stress about their assignments and cram for exams. As a freshman here at Juniata College, I was nervous about the college workload and my problems with procrastination taking a toll on my academics. Yet this semester I have managed to remain calm and organized with my schoolwork, which was a very pleasant surprise. I’d like to share my tips for managing assignments and reducing stress, while still being able to enjoy the semester!

Make a to-do list

I love being organized (color coding is really helpful!) and sometimes things tend to slip my mind. I like to take large sticky notes or pieces of paper and write out every assignment that is due that week, along with the due date and how long I plan to spend on each assignment. This way, I can get everything out of my head and on paper, and I can see potentially how much time I need to spend to complete my work.

Take breaks

It’s completely unrealistic to stay in your dorm room for nine hours straight writing an essay. People definitely do that, but I would not recommend it. Your brain can only focus on academics for so long. I like to set a timer, and work for a limited amount of time before I close my computer and do something else. For a distraction, I will watch an episode of my favorite show on Netflix, go to the gym, or go for a drive with my roommate. After a half hour or hour break, I will then return to my assignment, or work on a different class. I also really enjoy yoga because it’s physical and relaxing at the same time.

Playlists

I cannot function if I’m not listening to music. A lot of people I know can’t focus with music; so if that is the case for you, continue your work in silence. A website I enjoy using is 8tracks.com, which has thousands of personalized playlists you can listen to. You can choose moods or activities that customize a playlist for you. When working, I like to listen to indie calm study playlists, but with this website you can listen to anything you want! I just know that music really helps me focus when I’m stressed or trying to work on big assignments.

Courses

One of the most important things regarding work is the classes you take. One of my favorite things about Juniata is the large number of classes, varying in all departments that we are able to take. At some schools, you can only take classes relating to your major. At Juniata, professors and advisers want us to broaden our horizons and take different types of classes. Although Juniata does have requirements across all departments, there are so many options of courses to take! It’s really important to take classes that will interest you, so completing work for these classes isn’t impossible. Right now I am enrolled in courses that I am incredibly passionate about, so taking ten pages of notes isn’t difficult at all, since I am interest in the topic. Taking classes that you will enjoy will definitely make completing assignments easier.

I hope these tips helped pick courses and plan your time for the rest of the semester and for future terms! Keep on working!

 

The Best Part of My Week: Choral Union

It was 6:15pm this past Tuesday night when the alarm on my phone suddenly went off, momentarily blasting a song from one of my favorite musicals, “Spring Awakening.” I know what that meant; it was time to head over to Choral Union. I stand up from the blanket that I was sitting on to eat supper and enjoying the beautiful weather with my friends.  I grabbed my backpack, checked for my black folder and pencil, and rushed towards the Halbritter Performing Arts Center after waving goodbye to my roommates. After pulling open the extremely heavy doors, I joined the line that formed in front of the music stand with a sign-in sheet.

Choral Union

Choral Union

While I wait for my turn to sign in, I think back to my freshman year. At the end of the semester, I went to a chorus concert with a friend or two. At the end of the concert, I

found myself having tears in my eyes. Now, I could have easily attributed this to the stress of the end of the semester, but I knew what it was really about. I missed singing. I missed singing a lot. In high school, I was involved in choir, musicals, and church groups. When I got to Juniata, after a summer of going through a tonsillectomy and hardly singing at all, I tried out for the Concert Choir at Juniata. However, when I found out that I did not make it, I decided to keep singing to something that I did in the shower and nothing more. But, after that fated concert, I knew that there was something about singing in a group that I loved and would never compare to the notes that I was belting to my showerhead.

When it came time to schedule my next semester, I knew that I needed to make some time for a musical outlet. But, I knew that my schedule was just too crazy for the amazing, but time demanding Concert Choir. Then a friend recommended Choral Union to me which was only one night week. I decided to try it out and scheduled it for the next fall. Soon, I couldn’t wait for Tuesday nights and loved that little chunk of time that was scheduled to go and just sing the amazing songs that Dr. Shelley picked out for us.

Fast forward four semesters later, and I still can’t wait to go for that hour and fifteen minutes where I don’t have to think about my Research Methods homework or all the emails that I needed to respond to for my on-campus job. I can just think about the music, and that is it. I’m also reminded of my favorite part of Choral Union as a

psychology professor, Anne Gilman, sits down next to me, and begins to tell me all about her trip to the Dominican Republic; the members of Choral Union are not just students, but also faculty, staff, and other community members. As we all begin to stretch and warm-up our voices, I know that this is a very special and unique group that I am proud to be a part of.

A Spring Break Full of Music and Guatemala

Concert Choir in Guatemala

Concert Choir in Guatemala

College is a time to be exposed to the new and to add experiences that you never thought possible. Joining clubs and getting involved is really some of the best advice to take to heart. Traveling/studying abroad can really be a life-changing event and can be some of the best memories to cherish forever.

One such opportunity here is Juniata College’s Concert Choir. This one-credit course travels on tour to sing and share their love of music with more than just the Huntingdon community. Spring break is usually their biggest tour (a majority of the time being in a different country), with a New York one accompanying a week later.

The concerts are acapella and consist of memorized repertoire. When not singing and traveling to different locations in the country we had a chance to rest, site-see and engage in the culture. This year was a week tour to Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

Antigua, Guatemala City, Panajachel, Xela and Cantel were a few locations visited during the tour. The Fuentes Georginas hot springs, volunteering at the Asturias Academy and a musical exchange with members of the Coro Municipal were a few of the unforgettable additions to the trip. The singers were allowed to take a break from the focused performing setting and were able to engulf themselves in what Guatemala had to offer them.

About nine concerts were performed and sang all over the country, with different audiences attending each one. Two separate news stations filmed and broadcasted a performance on the local television station, which was really exhilarating for the choir to be a part of. Post interaction between the members and the audience was so rewarding because it really showed how the music touched the natives’ lives, even if half the choir members couldn’t speak the Spanish to fully  communicate.

The choir was the first group to perform from the Pennsylvania area in Guatemala, so it was not only a special event for the choir but for the Guatemalan people. When first beginning the tour, the choir had not yet developed the sense of fully communicating the messages each song held. As the week progressed and the family began to form, the music began to wrap and interlace itself throughout the choir to form the quality voice that is the intent of tour.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

 

Breathtaking sites, endless views and a beautiful country was all worth the hard work and countless hours of practice. Juniata Concert Choir is more than just a class, it’s a family. With support of the group, one amazing director, a solid foundation of songs and the common love of singing, spring break as a member of JC Concert Choir is one to rank at the top of incredible life experiences.

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