USI choirs combine with other musicians for riverside performance

Haley Fulk

USI’s women’s and chamber choirs joined professional musicians, church singers and rival university students on the stage of RiverPark Center in Owensboro for a regional choir performance Saturday.

An orchestra and more than 200 voices joined together for rehearsal at 10:30 a.m. USI’s women’s and chamber choirs accounted for 62 of these voices. The whole ensemble first worked together the night before, and the morning’s rehearsal was their second-ever and last united performance before the concert.

As USI’s choir filed into position on the stage, Daniel Craig, music coordinator, called to his students over his camera used to photograph the theater, “There they are!”

Craig put away the camera and joined his the students on stage as the baritone soloist. The USI music director performed “Schubert’s Mass in G” with his “kids,” as he refers to his students, who were dispersed among members more than two or three times their ages.

Craig said he had a special attachment to the piece, which he first sang 30 years ago as a senior in high school and then again as a freshman at Murray State. He said it is his favorite mass, and it was a “spiritual experience.”

The spiritual experience began with papers shuffling, the sound crew setting up and a young man talking about what kind of PC he planned on buying, all echoing through the empty theater, which would later be filled with the young and old alike, much like the body of the choir.

The empty sounds of the theater stopped when rehearsal began, commanding the attention of the sound crew.

The ensemble followed the maestro’s advice, and ended with someone speaking over the applause, saying the performance was “glorious.” The performance brought unlikely people together.

Despite intense sports rivalries between the universities, students worked with the Kentucky Wesleyan Choir. Both sets of college students had the opportunity to work with Maestro Nicholas Palmer, director of the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.

The two choirs combined with three others to work with Palmer, who has led musical productions with Harvard University Opera among others, and conducted in Mexico, Latin America and Europe.

This was the choir’s second time performing in Owensboro and Craig’s second time working with Palmer.

Craig said he trusted the co-directors, who were all in sync, and it wasn’t difficult to let loose the reins on his kids.

Craig said his kids were ready, and he was “happy, happy, happy” for what the night would bring.

“It’s the culmination of a long, hard semester,” Craig said. “I’m not nervous at all because I love singing here, my kids know their music – or my students, I should say – the choirs are a good family, and, you know, we’ve been working really hard. We got it. There’s no fear.”

The choir members spent an hour of most of their rehearsals during the semester practicing the repertoire, on top of music for other performances.

Many of USI students sang with an orchestra for the first time. The Owensboro Symphony Orchestra professionally performs with about 120 musicians each season, and more than 60 programs yearly.

“A live performance with an orchestra is seriously a bucket-list item,” Craig said. “How many people do you know can actually say, ‘I sang with a full orchestra’?”

Later that evening, after the morning’s rehearsal, “Romantic Magic,” the final concert of the 47th season for RiverPark Center, began at 7:30. As the room settled into an excited buzz, musicians glanced at each other and at the audience.

As the music released itself over the silence of the theater on the strings of instruments and cords of voices, Craig tilted his head upward as the choir followed the maestro’s guidance.

“What an amazing sound – several times I put my hand over my heart,” Craig said. “To hear that sound from my vantage point – because I am right in front of the string section – there’s this wall of choir that comes out over that. It, for me, is the greatest payment in the world.”

The performance ended with a long standing ovation, and audience members complimented students outside the theater before the choir members loaded the buses back to USI. Older musicians of the performance praised students, and one man told a USI student to “keep singing” as he shook her hand.

“To feel that, the music just completely transforms you – I was almost in tears,” Craig said. “I was chokin’ ‘em back – (those are) my babies up there singing. That’s my family up there singing.”

Brieanna Goreham, who has had one year of choir experience, said she was a little nervous, but it was exciting. Goreham said an older tenor told her it wasn’t very often he was able to sing next to a pretty girl like her. She said performing with a diverse group of people was fun.

“Dan is the most awesome choir director in the world, and he sings like an angel,” said the freshman elementary education major.

A member of the Owensboro Symphony Chorus, Virginia Zoglman, who is in her 70s, agreed with Goreham.

“(Craig’s) voice is so beautiful,” Zoglman said. “I am excited. I hope (USI students) take back the experience and have fond memories of it. It’s an experience of my life.”

Breally Bunch, junior psychology major, has four complete semesters of choir under her belt.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity, being able to be invited back for a second time,” Bunch said. “Singing is always an adrenaline rush.”

Students also practiced for another concert with a different music arrangement, which is at 3 p.m. Saturday at Old North Methodist Church.