Chamber Singers experience Charleston’s Spoleto Festival

June 28, 2013

What started as an idea spurred by a newspaper story became a trip to remember for the college’s Chamber Singers.

President Dan McAlexander said he was reading an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about summer events that shouldn’t be missed. One of them caught his eye.

“It mentioned the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, and that it was going to be Westminster Choir College Conductor Laureate Joseph Flummerfelt’s final appearance,” McAlexander said. “He has been Spoleto’s artistic director for choral activities for 30 years, and this was his farewell performance. I knew that James Camp, one of our music students, was going to Westminster for graduate school, and I thought it would be something James would like to experience.”

But the more he thought about it, the bigger the idea became.

“The Chamber Singers have been traveling all over the state with me, (First Lady) Celeste (Myall) and Quincy Brown (Vice President for Spiritual Life and Church Relations) for the past four years,” he said. “They gave up their weekends, often having to get up very early on Sunday mornings, and have been wonderful ambassadors for this college. I thought it would be a great idea if we could send them all to Charleston.”

McAlexander consulted with Marty Pirrman, Vice President for Finance and Operations, to see if it would be feasible.

“Marty said we had enough travel points built up that we could cover their hotel rooms for three days,” he said. “After talking with Provost David Garrison and Will Jones (Vice President for External Relations) , we found a way to make it happen. It was our way of saying thanks to those students for all their hard work – and especially to those graduating seniors who have been with us for four years.”

Debbie Ogle, Director of Choral Activities, said she was floored when the president contacted her.

“It was such a generous offer,” she said. “What a gift for the students.”

Most of the musicians were able to go, except for those who already had commitments for the summer. Ironically, one of them was James Camp.

“Unfortunately he wasn’t able to go because he had been cast in a show in Atlanta and was already in rehearsals,” she said. “That was too bad, because he was the inspiration for the entire trip.”

Ogle was joined by Dr. Toni Anderson, Coordinator of the Music program, as they accompanied the group to Charleston.

“The events our students attended at Spoleto were some of the finest live concerts they have ever experienced,” Dr. Anderson said. “They emerged from each concert with lots to say, and listening to them offer thoughtful, intelligent and appreciative reviews of each performance was extremely gratifying. This trip was a great learning experience that they will long remember.”

Rising sophomore Linda Jackson said Spoleto was an eye-opening experience.

“I got to see my first professional opera performance, which was sung in German,” she said. “I couldn’t help but be in awe by the amount of technique and creativity that went into the show.”

Linda said she hasn’t been exposed very much to classical music other than what she sings in recitals or choir concerts.

“On the last night, we heard Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ (conducted by Flummerfelt),” she said. “It was performed by a huge choir, a few soloists and a gigantic orchestra. All I could remember thinking, other than how absolutely incredible the music was, was that I wanted to be up there one day with my own professional career as a singer.

“The festival opened my eyes to the world of classical music more than ever and also helped me realize my potential as a classical singer in the future. This short trip with the choir turned into a stepping stone for my future goals.”

That concert was special to Ogle, as well.

“It was meaningful to all of us, for many reasons,” she said. “The music was very powerful and performed perfectly. The last movement was so compelling and so sad. It really reflected how we all were feeling, because right after that concert, we had to put (music graduate) Kristoffer Appel on a plane home to Denmark.”

The group gathered outside the Dock Street Theatre after the concert to say goodbye.

“We were all standing there in the middle of the street for a final photo and hug, all of us in tears,” she said. “It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.”

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