UMSL students perform with all-collegiate choir at MMEA annual conference

by | Feb 4, 2019

Alayna Epps, Lexi Neal, Theresa Pancella, Sophie Loban, Swabu Jefferson, Keegan Eich, Graham Haven and Nick Bashaw performed Jan. 25 in Osage Beach.
2019 All-Collegiate Choir

From left, Alayna Epps, Sophie Loban, Keegan Eich, Swabu Jefferson and Nick Bashaw were among eight UMSL students who performed with the All-Collegiate Choir under the direction of conductor Eliza Rubenstein (third from left) at this year’s Missouri Music Educators Association conference on Jan. 25. Not pictured were Lexi Neal, Theresa Pancella and Graham Haven. (Submitted photo)

A trip to Tan-Tar-A Resort was not quite a vacation for eight University of Missouri–St. Louis vocal music students chosen to perform with the 2019 All-Collegiate Choir Jan. 25 at the Missouri Music Educators Association’s annual In-Service Workshop/Conference in Osage Beach, Missouri.

They crammed seven rehearsals into fewer than three days with other top singers from colleges and universities across the state, all in the cause of being ready to perform before an audience of more than 800 on the conference’s final night on Jan. 25.

“Our rehearsal schedule was grueling,” said Sophie Loban, a sophomore majoring in music education. “The 10:15-midnight rehearsals were killers, but they were worth it. It was so cool to hear all the music come together as well as to experience the all-collegiate singers gel into an ensemble.”

Jim Henry, associate professor of music and director of choral studies, hand-selected eight students – sopranos Alayna Epps and Lexi Neal, altos Loban and Theresa Pancella, tenors Swabu Jefferson and Keegan Eich, baritone Graham Haven and bass Nick Bashaw – for the honor of performing with the all-collegiate choir.

They make 24 UMSL students who’ve been selected for the all-collegiate choir – which is named once every three years – since 2006.

“It’s a great opportunity for our students to network and meet other music students from around the state,” Henry said. “College choirs tend to be a bit insulated, but once the students graduate college and get out into the world of teaching or performing, they’re going to run into all these people.

“But the main benefit for the students is just to join their voices with singers from across the state who are considered the best in their colleges and make high-level, artistic, impactful music. It is a transformative experience for all of them.”

For most of UMSL’s 2019 All-Collegiate Choir students, it was not the first time they’d sung at the MMEA conference. Several had been chosen for all-state choir as high school students, and most had been part of University Singers when the whole group received an invitation to perform at the 2018 conference.

“Last year was an amazing experience to just share music with those that create it every day,” said Epps, an IN UNISON Scholar who plans to pursue a master’s degree in music therapy after completing her undergraduate degree “Their comments about how well we did and the different types of arrangements we sang – it was just overwhelming.”

She was honored and eager to return to Lake of the Ozarks with her fellow UMSL students.

They had a chance to reconnect with some familiar faces – including former music teachers – and attend some of the conference’s many workshops.

“They’re incredibly valuable,” said Bashaw, a sophomore majoring in music education. “You learn things that you never even expected to learn in some of these sessions. You can learn about anything from keeping kids attention to how to work with middle schoolers to keeping high schools together and even how to bring high school and university choirs together for joint concerts and how to effectively use music in the non-music classroom. It’s really good.”

But their main priority was getting ready for their performance.

They were given the repertoire in December and learned it over the winter break.

Eich, majoring in music theory and composition, was one of several students who said he began his preparation on YouTube, studying other college or professional choirs who’d performed the songs before.

The UMSL students also had one rehearsal together on campus.

Of the eight songs they performed, several of the students were particularly taken with “Idumea,” a shape-note song from the Sacred Harp book.

“It’s a beautiful a cappella song,” Jefferson said, “and then with the violin to accompany it, it’s very powerful to me. It’s a wonderful piece.”

They worked with conductor Eliza Rubenstein, a Missouri native now part of music faculty at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. She also serves as the artistic director of the Orange County Women’s Chorus and the Long Beach Chorale and Chamber Orchestra and a music director at Mesa Verde United Methodist Church.

“She was a very energetic and engaging personality,” Loban said, “and it was great to work with her.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik