Jewell’s Concert Choir announced as semi-finalist for American Prize

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Each year, Opening Convocation is an opportunity to show William Jewell College’s recent achievements. Be it an anniversary, an award or the start of something new, there’s always something mentioned. This time, it was the Concert Choir’s progress towards winning the American Prize. The choir is currently one of 12 semifinalists in the college/university division. Speakers at Opening Convocation were discussing it as the choral equivalent of the AP Poll.

Dr. Anthony Maglione, director of the Concert Choir is enthusiastic about Jewell’s chance.

“Some of the other semifinalists are from some of the best [choir] schools in the country,” said Maglione.

University of Southern California, University of South Dakota and University of Washington are a few schools are a few schools in the competition. Jewell’s size makes its appearance on the list unusual.

“We are also the smallest school. A lot of these schools are major research universities with graduate programs,” said Maglione.

2015 is not the first year that the Concert Choir has been recognized. Since Maglione’s introduction in 2010, accolades for the choirs have increased. After the retirement of Dr. Arnold Epley, he became the director of what he considered an already good choir. He had three main goals in the beginning: work smoothly through the transitional phase, get invited to a state convention and sing at a large, regional convention.

Every time Maglione referred to the Concert Choir, he used the word “they” instead of “we.”

“I guess I don’t take credit for much of it,” he said. “No, it is really a team effort, and when I say ‘they’, I’m thinking as a teacher and how proud I am of their hard work. I look more at the accomplishments of the Concert Choir, less on my ability to be great in the classroom and more on the fact that they’re working really hard.”

Immediately after our interview was rehearsal, and I got to see exactly what this “hard work” entailed. What was instantly noticeable was the diverse demographic; some of the people that walked in through the door were not music majors or minors. The “flagship choir,” as Maglione called it, is not exclusive to non-music students. The rehearsal started right away. Immediately, everyone was focused. As they began to sing—sometimes substituting the text with “do” or “doe” to focus on the notes and rhythms—students would occasionally wave a hand in the air. This was to indicate that a mistake was made, but what seemed like a method to give incentive to practice was actually much more complex. While waving a hand, there isn’t a fear of indicating a mistake, since the signal acts as a method of communication in a large ensemble where it’s easy to hide.

“I try to keep rehearsal light, engaging and fun so that when we make mistakes, it’s not debilitating,” said Maglione.

Many of the gestures received a simple nod in reply, signifying that the student knew what went wrong and how to fix it.

The class then broke off into sectionals—bass and tenors in the Recital Hall, sopranos and altos remaining in the room. Maglione splits his time between the two. This is where interaction is more one-on-one. The men formed a circle and, while rehearsing, input from the students was encouraged. Maglione would join in, playing pitches on the piano and providing suggestions. The “team effort,” as Maglione described it, was highlighted here. Back in the women’s sectional Maglione would join the second altos to help them through a seemingly challenging passage.

Being an American Prize semifinalist is the beginning of the choir program’s year. Two new recordings of the Concert Choir will soon be released on iTunes, Amazon and Naxos (which provides Jewell students with a free subscription). Nathan Pangrazio, an Emmy-winning composer, has commissioned a requiem for Jewell choirs to perform. Jewell’s Concert Choir also has performances on campus throughout the year.

Photo by Kyle Rivas

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