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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.
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.
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.