The Linda Berry Stein College Choral Performers Thrive in the Midst of the Pandemic
“If I can sing, I still am free.” This lyric from Refuge by American composer Elaine Hagenberg, performed as part of the Jacksonville University Fall Choral Concert on Nov. 6, captures the clarion call felt by many choral performers and music leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singing in organized groups is not only a profession, vocation or hobby for more than 42 million Americans, it is a performance art built on a sense of community and a foundation of trust. At Jacksonville University, the choral performers are a tight-knit community, one that continued to thrive during the pandemic.
Dr. Julian Bryson, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies explains that after classes moved online in March 2020, most of the choral groups elected to continue rehearsing together virtually, despite the fact that they had already accomplished the required number of class meeting hours for the semester.
“The fact that so many of them continued meeting virtually, even though they didn’t need to in order to pass the class, just showed how desperate they were to have some connection to music and to one another,” he said.
That this community has remained creative and productive thanks to the passion of its students and faculty is all the more poignant as the Stein College celebrates its 60th Anniversary in 2021-2022.
“I think about Fran Kinne’s connection to the Stein College that lasted almost 60 years,” Dr. Bryson says. “That is a really powerful testimony to what we do here; that any one person would dedicate that much time to any one organization says a lot about both the person and the organization. It’s important that we continue that legacy, that we continue to make great art and great music.”
The Nov. 6 concert represented the return to performing in front of a live audience for the JU choral programs, and featured both the University Singers and Choral Union as well as guest vocalists and instrumentalists. The concert, entitled Us & Them, explored the concepts of bringing together sometimes disparate groups, both in its content and in its execution.
“We highlighted the bringing together of people in a number of ways, from the opening double choir piece to highlighting different people groups in the languages that we sang and in geography; and then in the pieces that included our guests–bringing together our standing ensembles with people who are not usually singing with them, along with a guest instrumentalist. There were a lot of ways to see people who don’t always get to be together, getting to be together.”
The Fall Choral Concert continued a thematic series that is focused on points of intersection and coming together, as characterized by the ampersand symbol that is present in the titles of the 2021-22 choral concerts.
As Dr. Bryson explains: “After the pandemic that has sidelined us and kept us away from one another, and thinking about the polarization in a lot of our social discourse and politics, the concept of bringing together opposites and people from different places and spaces was a really attractive idea.”
Thus far, the concert series has included the Q&A in September, featuring the University Singers and Choral Union; November’s Us & Them; and CHOICE&, the fall concert from Infinitus, the only collegiate member of the C4 (Choral Composer/Conductor Collective) Network in the country. In the spring, the RiverTones vocal jazz ensemble will welcome guest conductor Kirby Shaw for the inaugural Vocal Jazz Choral Festival (March 5), the University Singers and Choral Union will combine with the JU Orchestra to present Church & State (March 8), Infinitus will present a spring concert (April 15) and the University Singers and Choral Union will present Nature & Nurture (April 21).
As Dr. Bryson sees it, choral performances have a unique ability–especially in this time of global upheaval and uncertainty–to help us find comfort and expression.
“One of the phrases I use in my appreciation courses is that art and music give us an opportunity to practice living without the risk of dying. I see in music, especially choral music, the ability to work out questions, to sit in uncomfortable spaces and think together, to wrestle with the big issues. It comes pre-equipped with a text, and we get to sit with that text as music is happening to think about what it might mean and how it applies to life. At the end of the day, if you get it wrong, no one dies, which is a good thing about choir. But on the other side, if you get it right, it can be a powerful and moving experience.”
We hope you’ll join us at one of the upcoming Stein College Department of Music performances:
- Department of Music Holiday Prism Concert
- Virtual performance on Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
- Stream the concert here.
- Vocal Jazz Choral Festival featuring the Jacksonville University RiverTones with world-renowned guest conductor Kirby Shaw
- Saturday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.
- 60th Anniversary Celebration featuring mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and pianist Jake Heggie
- Sunday, April 10 at 4:00 p.m.
And the many other Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts Creative Arts Series events!
By Melanie Cost