4 UMSL singers represent Missouri, lend voices to all-collegiate choir at national conference

Last fall, when leaders of the Missouri Choral Directors Association were looking for a single quartet to sing on behalf of the Show-Me State, they chose the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Music majors Emese Mattingly, Jayde Mitchell, Christopher Stanfill and Olivia Vaughn learned in November that they’d been selected for the National Collegiate Unity Honor Choir, which recently performed at the national conference of the American Choral Directors Association held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

ACDA quartet

Selected to sing at last month’s biennial American Choral Directors Association gathering were Department of Music upperclassmen (from left) Jayde Mitchell, Emese Mattingly, Olivia Vaughn and Christopher Stanfill. (Photo courtesy of Emese Mattingly)

“It was really an experience,” said Vaughn, a soprano, looking back on the performances and the ACDA conference itself. “I never want to miss another one.”

Following many weeks of individual and group preparation earlier this semester, the UMSL quartet enjoyed an all-expenses-paid trip last month to the biennial event alongside Associate Professor of Music Jim Henry and fellow UMSL student Maria Ellis, who also received funding to attend the conference.

“We had a performance that Friday night and a performance on Saturday, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were the rehearsals,” said Mattingly, an alto who is double majoring in music and English. “We really only had six hours, with everyone, to get this thing beautified.”

Joining their four voices with other quartets hailing from nearly all 50 states before a packed house at both performances, the UMSL students were amazed and impressed with how it all came together.

A gospel choir and children’s choir were featured during the all-collegiate unity concerts as well, with the overall repertoire taking the singers and audience members on a sweeping musical and historical journey.

“We started off with a Hebrew piece, and by the end we were doing a Harry Belafonte song,” Mattingly said. “We got to talk to the director and hear why he chose these pieces, and it really gave a lot of depth to them that I think really resonated with all four of us.”

For baritone Stanfill, whose primary focus at UMSL has been opera, the ACDA experience rekindled an interest in choral music.

“I haven’t felt that excited about choir in a long time,” Stanfill said. “It was really cool, and I’ve been listening to some of that choral stuff that I used to love.”

ACDA unity concert

UMSL faculty member Jim Henry captured this scene from his seat in the audience at one of the all-collegiate choir’s two packed-house performances in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Jim Henry)

In addition to lectures and information sessions, the conference was packed with musical performances of all sorts, showcasing many styles as well as age groups.

“It was amazing to see the kind of commitment each level was able to give out,” Mattingly said. “You’d think that a middle school couldn’t do repertoire that a professional choir could, and yet there were these children’s choirs that were doing just incredible things. It was a very high level of achievement in choral music that was amazing to witness.”

Mitchell, the tenor of the UMSL group, described the conference as a who’s who of the field and, like Vaughn, hopes to attend in years to come after this first experience. ACDA is the largest music-education organization specifically dedicated to the advancement of choral music.

“The leading composers and conductors are all there,” said Mitchell, who is looking into grad school options. “Those once-in-a-lifetime performances? They were there. The music experience alone is worth going, period. But I also felt like I got my foot in the door in a lot of places for that next step.”

ACDA conference letters

Along with the music experience itself, the UMSL students enjoyed connecting with singers from all across the country and learning more about a field they love. (Photo courtesy of Emese Mattingly)

It also felt like a family. Mitchell’s favorite moment of the whole week was the chance to unexpectedly reconnect with the person responsible for his first major choir experience – in a statewide honors chorus – when he was a high school student in Colorado.

“I just fell in love with that director, and he was awesome, but I hadn’t really heard from him since,” Mitchell said. “But at ACDA I stopped by the University of Southern California booth at the college fair, and there were some students there who said, ‘Hey, you should come to our alumni gathering later and meet some of the faculty.’ And I said, ‘Sure – actually a guy from USC changed my life.’ And I went that night and he was there.

“I went up to him and said, ‘You changed my life,’ and he pulled me in and gave me a hug. Then he silenced the room and said, ‘Can you repeat what you just said, young man?’ That was crazy for me. Because USC is a huge school on the other side of the country, and even though the world is so big, it can be tightknit at the same time. And that was true of the whole conference.”

Meanwhile, Ellis got to meet several choral music luminaries including Alice Parker, Andre Thomas, Anton Armstrong and Rollo Dilworth, a UMSL alumnus and recipient of a 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award. And Henry’s own acclaimed quartet, Crossroads, was invited to perform at the conference.

It was the second ACDA national conference appearance for Crossroads, which was the recipient of last year’s Stand For Music Award, the National Association for Music Education’s most prestigious award for music education advocacy.

The UMSL Experience

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