High notes on a big stage

The University Singers may have to rehearse in the depths of the Phillips Hall basement, but that doesn’t discourage the 40 student performers from making a name for themselves around D.C.

One of those opportunities is this Saturday when the singers take the stage with Choralis, a professional choir and orchestra based in Alexandria, Va.

“Performances like this one set us apart from other music on campus,” said Kaitlyn Reilly, a senior and the group’s president. “We always perform hard, and this is a way to get the exposure and attendance that I think we deserve.”

When the group – which is composed partly of majors in the department and partly of people simply interested in singing – performs in the 1700-seat concert hall at Northern Virginia Community College this weekend, the singers will perform an ensemble that includes the classic and challenging piece, Carmina Burana.

“This is one of those pieces that every singer performs at one point in their careers,” said Daniel Kaufman, a sophomore in the choir. “It’s exciting that I’m finally getting to really learn it.”

The rehearsal process began just seven weeks ago when Neil Weston, a conductor for Choralis, recommended that the GW group be the guest artist at the choir’s fall concert.

Gisele Becker, who has directed the University Singers for the past five years, said that although it was an honor to be chosen, it was stressful to rehearse under a time crunch of less than two months.

“Because it was so early [in the school year] and this is a very difficult repertoire to master, I was scared to death,” said Becker, who is also a professor in the music department.

The choir is part of a for-credit course, so rehearsals were held each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon during class time. The few weeks they have had to rehearse were filled with challenges, such as new students and a group inflicted with the flu, Becker said.

After the performance this weekend the singers have a full schedule of choral activities for which to prepare. The Chamber Choir and the Women’s Choir, both selective branches of the larger University Singers, are set to perform at the Western Presbyterian Church in early November, and at a showcase performance in Lisner Auditorium in February.

The group hopes that these upcoming events will give the choir some weight in the student body as the group that masters challenging classical music, Reilly said. Or, at the very least, the performances will let the community know the singers exist.

“Last week a student came to audition for me and said that she didn’t even know there was a choir at GW,” Becker said. “It’s frustrating to hear from students that they can’t even find us in the building.”

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