The auditorium fell silent as the Webster University Chorale took the stage in all-black attire and began the first song of an evening full of musical appreciation.
The Webster University Choral Ensembles concert was held at the Community Music School Concert Hall on April 29 at 7 p.m. The performance featured three ensembles: the Webster University Chorale, directed by Trent Patterson; Webster University Aurelia, directed by Stuart Chapman Hill; and guest ensemble Concert Choir of St. Louis Community College-Meramec (STLCC-Meramec), directed by Jerry Myers.
The Webster University Chorale opened the concert. The performance was followed by a group of student volunteers from Webster’s choir department with a surprise performance of “We Rise” by John Nguyen and composed by former Webster University choir student Addie Struckman. Then, all three choirs joined together to perform a five-movement piece. The Webster University Aurelia choir then gave the final performance of the night and concluded the concert.
Hill, assistant professor of Music and director of Music Education at Webster, said collaborating with STLCC-Meramec gave both choir departments a chance to nurture their relationships with students who transfer from STLCC-Meramec’s choir to Webster’s.
Myers, professor of Music and director of Choral Activities and Music Program coordinator at STLCC-Meramec, said he and Patterson’s choir performed collaboratively a few years ago at Webster and Carnegie Hall.
Myers has been in search of performance venues since the college’s Meramec Music Theatre began undergoing renovations approximately one year ago. Because of STLCC-Meramec’s history with Webster, he said it was easy to call Webster’s choir department and ask if they wanted to do a concert together. He notes the importance of live performance for his students.
“Learning music is a fun process. It’s part of the learning experience. But if you’re not able to share what you learn with a live audience, the process isn’t complete,” Myers said.
One section of the concert featured both Webster students and STLCC-Meramec students singing together in a multi-movement piece titled “Frostiana” composed by Randall Thompson and written by Robert Frost.
Myers said the piece incorporates a range of vocal frequencies and is learnable for singers of all skill levels, so the students were able to master it with limited combined rehearsal time. He said these rehearsals do more than help the students learn the piece; they help them see the performance as a whole.
“So [rehearsal] is not just working on the parts that need the work; [it’s] beginning to run the movements so [students] begin to get the big picture and begin to enjoy the piece and understand the story, and understand the musicianship of it as well,” Myers said.
Hill also said live performance is essential for choir students. He said his students generally perform in two concerts per semester, with occasional outside opportunities. Performing in front of an audience gives students a chance to display and develop their singing and stage skills, according to Hill.
“Concerts are crucial for performing ensembles, because this is where we show off what we’ve learned,” Hill said. “The performances are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, because so much rehearsal time and energy has gone into shaping the pieces for performance, and the audience only gets a snapshot. But performances also are crucial for learning skills like stage presence and responsiveness to performing conditions like the acoustics of a concert hall.”
Freshman singer from Webster University Chorale Riley Cameron said he has “had a relatively positive experience with the choir department here [at Webster]” and that performing concerts live is beneficial to his musical education.
“Performing live helps me to get out of any anxiety I have about singing in front of others, and also lets me get feedback from my peers and professors, so it always helps me,” Cameron said.
Regarding the choir program, Hill encouraged any interested Webster students to participate and emphasized the program’s welcoming approach to new singers.
“I hope Webster students know that our choirs are open to all Webster students, not just music majors,” he said. “In fact, as recently as last semester, Aurelia was almost 50% singers from areas outside of music. Although the Department of Music manages these choirs, we really do see them as being part of the fabric of the entire campus community.”
This upcoming Friday, May 6, the Webster New Music Ensemble will perform at the Community Music School Concert Hall at 7 p.m. as part of a series of student recitals hosted by the Leigh-Gerdine College of Fine Arts Department.