The auditorium fell silent as the Webster University Choir 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 show featured three ensembles: the Webster University Choir, conducted by Trent Patterson; Webster University Aurelia, led by Stuart Chapman Hill; and the guest ensemble Concert Choir of St. Louis Community College-Meramec (STLCC-Meramec), conducted by Jerry Myers.
The Webster University Choir 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 the three choirs came together to perform a piece in five movements. The Aurelia Choir of Webster University then gave the final performance of the evening and concluded the concert.
Hill, assistant professor of music and director of music education at Webster, said the collaboration with STLCC-Meramec has given both choir departments a chance to nurture their relationships with students transitioning from STLCC-Meramec’s choir. at Webster.
Myers, music teacher 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 on the hunt for performance venues since the college’s Meramec Music Theater began undergoing renovations about a 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 gig together. He notes the importance of performing arts 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 over,” Myers said.
A section of the concert featured 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 can be learned by singers of all skill levels, so students were able to master it with limited combined rehearsal time. He said these rehearsals do more than help students learn the piece; they help them see the performance as a whole.
“So [rehearsal] don’t just work on the parts that need work; [it’s] start executing the movements in such a way [students] start to see the bigger picture and start to appreciate the piece and understand the story, as well as understand the musicality of it,” Myers said.
Hill also said live performances are essential for choir students. He said his students typically perform in two concerts per semester, with occasional outside opportunities. Performing in front of an audience gives students a chance to show off and develop their singing and performing skills, according to Hill.
“Concerts are crucial for performing ensembles, because that’s where we show 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 the performance, and the audience only gets a snapshot. But performance is also crucial for learning skills like stage presence and responsiveness to performance conditions like the acoustics of a concert hall.
Webster University choir freshman singer Riley Cameron said he had “a relatively positive experience with the choir department here [at Webster]and that giving live concerts is beneficial for his musical education.
“Performing live helps me get out of any anxiety I have about singing in front of others, and also allows me to get feedback from my peers and teachers, so it always helps me” , said Cameron.
Regarding the choir program, Hill encouraged all 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, just last semester, Aurelia was nearly 50% singer in fields outside of music. Although the Department of Music runs these choirs, we truly consider them part of the fabric of the entire campus community.
This coming 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 organized by the Leigh-Gerdine College of Fine Arts Department.