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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Chamber Singers foster connection through music

Vocal group aims to share its music locally and abroad

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2024 print edition. You can find the digital version here

The American University Chamber Singers is a tight-knit vocal group striving to share its talent and music with the campus community.

Chamber Singers is one of several music performance groups on campus and is a highly selective ensemble of 26 to 32 members. 

Currently, there are 30 singers involved in Chamber Singers. According to Daniel Abraham, the director of choral activities, a professor of music and chair of the Department of Performing Arts, members are highly dedicated to developing their craft with a mission of giving back to the community. 

“Chamber Singers is an amazing academical group,” Abraham said. 

Chamber Singers was first established in 1934 and existed under many directors before Abraham. The vocal ensemble was a strong group until the early 1990s when choral director Vito Mason retired, Abraham explained. 

Three different directors attempted to replace Mason after his retirement, but frequent leadership changes within a short period of time resulted in the group disbanding and losing its spark. After this, the singers met occasionally, but they weren’t part of a robust program. 

“The membership was greatly diminished,” Abraham said. “It was not in good shape.” 

When Abraham became choral director in 2000, he was asked to rebuild a larger chorus and revitalize an ensemble of chamber singers. That January, he held auditions for a spring showcase and chose the Mozart Requiem to draw students into the program. 

Abraham cultivated a group of chamber singers by identifying around 24 of the best vocalists from 90 new chorus members. During the last 20 minutes of a regular chorus rehearsal, the smaller group of singers practiced “Jesu, meine Freude,” one of Bach's motets, to prepare for the spring performance. 

“It was that group that very quickly said, ‘Well, we want to keep this going,’” Abraham said. 

It took five to 10 years for the Chamber Singers to develop a distinct separation from the larger chorus. As the group gained stability, they created a separate credit-bearing course that was a part of AU’s class schedule, as well as a distinct rehearsal time. 

Since 2010, Chamber Singers has had the resources to properly challenge its musicians and maintain membership. The group encourages students to audition and join the ensemble, regardless of their major or minor. 

“Whatever your background is, whoever you are, whether you’re a major in the DPA or not,” said Abraham. “If you’re there and you have the skills to be a part of the ensemble, it becomes an incredibly close-knit group very quickly.” 

Auditions for all choral ensembles take place at the beginning of every semester. Vocal training, sight reading skills and musicianship are all factors directors take into consideration when assessing who moves forward as a potential chamber singer. 

Luke Stowell, a senior in the School of International Service and the Department of Performing Arts, has been a member of Chamber Singers since his freshman year. The ensemble is one of his favorite commitments and communities. 

According to Stowell, Chamber Singers is a select and competitive group due to the advanced musicianship of the vocalists. However, these traits are also what makes the group work well together. 

“The skill level is pretty high, so we can make some pretty cool music pretty easily,” Stowell said. 

Rehearsal times are usually twice a week for two and a half hours. For Stowell, the best days of his week are when he has long rehearsal blocks. 

“We really enjoy the music we’re able to create together,” Stowell said. “Everybody’s really happy to be there.” 

Due to the group's smaller size, each individual plays a vital role in the production of each piece. Abraham explained that every single voice is what makes the ensemble unique and different. 

“When one person is absent, we feel it,” Abraham said. “We feel it in rehearsal, we feel it in concert … the makeup of the group at any time has an impact on the sound, on the musicality.” 

The style of the Chamber Singers’ music falls into the genre of “Western-centric choral tradition,” Abraham explained. The group explores different varieties of music including European compositions, 18th-century music with instrumentalists, jazz, folk and more. 

“I don’t think we’re afraid to approach almost anything,” Abraham said. 

Chamber Singers’ performance this spring, titled “In Nature’s Realm: Our Environment and Care for the Earth,” centers around ecology and the beauty of nature. The program includes pieces with themes of stopping climate change and global unsustainability. 

The ensemble intends to incorporate social and political issues into artistic expression as a constructive way to raise awareness. They hope that by doing so their performances will have a positive impact on the communities around them. 

“There’s been a goal or a mission to return something to the communities as a whole. To look at the public good and to bring art or the questions that art composes to a community for furthering thinking,” Abraham said. 

The purpose of Chamber Singers is to perform and bring music to communities both in the D.C. area and abroad. Every two years, ensemble members tour internationally in an effort to exchange their craft with others and strengthen their bonds with each other. 

Through cultural diplomatic touring, the chamber singers travel to locations off the beaten path. Abraham said that by taking risks and going to less populous cities, the students experience a special cultural exchange.

“We want to go to small places where … we can have an impact and it can have a different kind of impact on us,” Abraham said. 

Their most recent tour in May of last year was to Central Europe, where the group performed in Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia. Their next tour will be in May 2025.

Abraham and Stowell encourage all students to audition, become part of the choral community or attend their shows. 

“Chamber Singers is just one of the great ways to be part of the community,” Abraham said. “I really hope that students from across campus continue and energetically explore all that’s offered.” 

This article was edited by Marina Zaczkiewicz, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Charlie Mennuti, Julia Patton and Leta Lattin.

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