Central Connecticut State University’s elite choral group, the University Singers, will add a touch of silver to downtown New Britain this May when the group celebrates its 25th anniversary at Trinity-On-Main.
The choir features 26 students selected by competitive audition. If the group’s reputation precedes it, the May 6, 2018, Silver Jubilee Gala likely will sell out.
“I treat ‘USingers’ as a pre-professional ensemble,” says Assistant Professor of Music and University Singers’ Director Drew Collins. “There are professional choirs all over the country, and it is possible for singers to make at least part of their living singing in one or more.”
Collins notes that alumnus Marques Ruff ’10 has toured the world for five years singing with the professional men’s ensemble, Chanticleer. “Marques serves as a prime example of how great choral singing at the collegiate level can grow into a ‘choral career,’” he says.
The Singers will embark on an international tour to China in mid-May 2018. “In its 25-year history, the group has toured to Japan, Germany, Poland, Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy, France, and Hungary. We take our service as CCSU’s ‘Global Musical Ambassadors’ very seriously,” Collins says.
The spring gala traditionally serves as a fundraiser to support the group’s international travel, according to Collins.
“The event also will have a silent auction and some other opportunities to contribute to our upcoming tour,” he says. “Since the gala will also serve as the send-off for our tour to China, guests can expect Chinese-style finger foods during intermission.”
Alexander O’Neil ’18, the choir’s first student director, looks forward to experiencing Chinese culture “through the lens of music.”
“Music and tonality have many different forms and implications around the world, and being able to perform and experience another culture through music is an opportunity all singers should have,” he says.
The University Singers will perform in multiple languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin, something first-year graduate student Cecilia Gigliotti anticipates with excitement.
“Mandarin was the first language I ever studied, so I’m eager to dust that one off and use it!” Gigliotti explains. “Travel is essential to art, and to life, because it reminds us of the human condition we all share. I’m excited to reach out to our audiences through the universal language of music.”
Collins, who has directed the choir for five years, expects to see a change in the group as they prepare for the tour to China.
“As is true of most academic performing ensembles, ‘USingers’ comes together the more we sing together. By May, we will have achieved the kind of special team mindset that can only be experienced in a musical ensemble,” he says.
Bass section leader Tevin Jourdain ’19 adds, “Everyone really helps one another reach the common goals set by Dr. Collins. As a section leader you’re asked to lead by example, set the mark for your section, sing your part, and be able to help anyone who asks for assistance.”
Founded in 1994 by Professor of Music Emeritus Pamela Perry, the University Singers have exceeded her initial vision and scope for the choir.
“When I founded the University Singers 25 years ago,” Perry says, “I knew that the group would have to develop over three to four years to become a ‘true’ college select choir. And they did! But as the years went by, the musical development and commitment of the singers continued to grow.”
She adds, “I kept increasing my expectations, giving them more and more difficult repertoire, and asking more of them, and they accepted every challenge. Each group developed a bond — which became even stronger on international travel years — and quite honestly, is still there with many of the singers.”
Perry will return on May 6 to conduct an alumni choir at the Silver Jubilee Gala.
“What a privilege,” she says, “bringing so many of these alumni singers together again for this 25th anniversary and being invited to conduct them one more time — I am honored and anticipate the experience we will all share.”
Collins also hopes to include a mini-recital of some of the Singers’ distinguished vocal alumni “to showcase the long-lasting positive effect having been in the group can have on our graduates,” he says.
Collins cultivates that effect by challenging his singers with mostly professional-tier virtuosity music by the likes of Ives, Paulus, Barber, Pärt, Argento, Conte, Monteverdi, Debussy, Britten, Rorem, Górecki, Poulenc, and Brahms.
“We sing a Bach motet each year, which is not a tradition most college choirs can sustain,” Collins notes.
The University Singers’ holiday program consists of seven pieces, each in a different language.
“These challenges are an important part of the process of bringing us together as a group each year,” Collins adds.