International competition is music to their ears
ON THE GREEN | The University Chorale and UD-17, a premier vocal chamber ensemble, spent three weeks last summer in Europe, not as tourists but as performers, winning honors at a major international choral competition.
After singing by invitation at the International Society for Music Education conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, the ensembles went on to the Béla Bartók International Choir Competition in Hungary, where they were the only U.S. participants. The UD Chorale advanced to the “Grand Prix” round of competition there and finished a close second behind a Latvian choral group known as one of the best in the world.
Paul D. Head, professor and chair of the Department of Music as well as director of choral studies at UD, won the festival’s award as best conductor.
The Bartók event was four days long with three stages of competition. The UD students breezed through the first two rounds, performing new sets in each. UD-17 placed third, but did not make it to the Grand Prix.
“With a powerful and perfect performance, [the UD Chorale] nearly displaced the tough front-running Latvian group,” George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email from the final round of the festival, which he attended. “Our students were fearless and wonderful as they concluded two days of fierce competition with an inspired and inspiring performance.”
The competition included amateur and professional choirs in five categories: children’s choirs, youth choirs, equal voices, chamber choirs and mixed choirs. The UD Chorale competed in the mixed choir group and UD-17 in the chamber choir group.
The festival in Hungary was a highlight of the students’ European trip, in which they also toured in Germany, Austria and Greece, performing and recording at every stop as they worked to prepare for the Bartók competition.
“The students had maybe two whole days off while we were there,” Head says of the trip. “They performed and practiced every day to refine their sound.”
The tour coincided with the London Summer Olympics, and music education major James Huchla noted a comparison. “It was like we were Olympians, in a way,” he said, “and eager to prove America’s place in the choral performance world.”
The opportunity for vocal music students to perform in Europe is invaluable, Head says.
“The choral tradition comes out of Western Europe, and Europeans seriously value choral singing as part of formal music education,” he says. “Singing in Europe is a pilgrimage of sorts.”
The UD Chorale is among the most highly regarded college choirs in the eastern United States. In recent years, the choir has been invited to sing at both regional and national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association and has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and Verizon Hall in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Arts.
In addition to annual regional tours, the chorale has traveled extensively throughout Europe and, in 2007, took the first-place grand prix award over 40 other choirs at the Tallinn International Choral Competition in Estonia.
UD-17 is a select 17-voice choir that makes frequent appearances throughout the mid-Atlantic region. In its first international performance in 2010, the ensemble took second-place awards in both categories in which it competed at the 42nd International Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain.