By Clint Kelly
Photo by Jimi Lott
Photo by Jimi Lott
The Concert Choir at Seattle Pacific University made its national stage debut in March singing an Old Testament Psalm in the original Hebrew. It is by no means the first time the Choir has sung in tongues. In the past, these have included Croatian, French, Hungarian and Lungandan. This year, add German, Latin and Russian.
But Hebrew, in Texas, before a national audience? Mazeltov!
David Anderson (top) directs the 70-voice SPU Concert Choir. "The response to our ACDA performance was extremely gratifying," he says. "Choral directors from all over the country were enthusiastic about us."
The Choir flew all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), attended by more than 6,000 people. The 32 men and 38 women of Seattle Pacific University had been handpicked from a "blind" audition of music tapes sent in by choirs coast-to-coast that included the biggest and best-funded state schools in the country.
"What an incredible opportunity," says education major and first soprano Lorna McBride. She transferred to SPU from the University of Colorado and discovered a superior choral program. "We had the amazing privilege to sing at ACDA with the best of the best."
The SPU Concert Choir was chosen as one of just four schools to perform at "Together We Sing," a special concert in recognition of the significant and historical role choral music has played in creating community through the commonality of God-centered faiths. Joining Seattle Pacific were the concert choirs of North Dakota State University, Texas Christian University and the University of Louisville.
"Three Movements for Advent," a processional by Joseph Martin, was commissioned especially for the event and combined all four choirs with essentially one rehearsal. But perhaps the most challenging piece was the one selection that showcased the SPU Choir alone. "Psalm 42" by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun had to be sung in Hebrew.
Royce Saltzman, past president of the ACDA, says that applications pour in from choirs throughout the United States to a judging committee comprised of "choral experts who choose only the finest ensembles." "I supported the choice of the SPU Choir," says Saltzman, who is past professor of choral music at the University of Oregon and executive director of the Oregon Bach Festival. "It is an excellent choir — disciplined, musical and expressive."
Joel Ulrich, who sang bass with the Seattle Pacific Concert Choir in the late '60s and now directs the choirs at Bellevue (Washington) Christian High School, agrees. He believes much of the excellence is traceable to the choirmaster. "Some of my best students have attended SPU. They come back and tell me wonderful stories of how the man they see on the podium is the man they see in their lives."
That man is choral director David Anderson, whom junior Erin Booth calls a "kind, emotional conductor, almost like a dad." Adds McBride, "He really desires for the music to come from the heart."
Anderson, a baritone who began to work with the choir in 1992, makes divine praise a priority. "This is the study of fine musical literature, much as we might study fine English literature," he says. "There is for me a sense of ministry in this. What we want is to say something about our faith while connecting academically and technically through the high form of choral art."
It has inspired Ulrich to continue to raise the bar with his own students. Every chance he can, he exposes them to SPU Concert Choir. "Anyone can get up and teach the notes," he says, "but to demonstrate a passionate commitment, the love of beautiful music, and the idea that ultimately music is about bringing us to God — that requires someone like David Anderson, who sees his students as brothers and sisters in Christ."
The word about SPU performing groups is spreading rapidly. As soon as it became known that the Concert Choir had been chosen for Texas, Anderson began to receive requests from touring choirs for permission to stop by campus for a listen. "Publicity like this increases our recruiting power," he says. Immediately after the ACDA concert, the Choir took their spring tour to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Boulder, Denver and Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Anderson says students enjoy the variety. "Performing together like this unifies us in faith and bonds us within groups very much like family."
To purchase this year's SPU Concert Choir CD, send a check for $15 plus $2 shipping and handling to Response, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington 98119.