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London Calling

This June, the voices of the University of South Carolina Concert Choir will lift cathedrals across Great Britain with song.

School of Music Concert Choir members at Southwark Parish Cathedral, LondonFor the first time since 2019, the Concert Choir is performing abroad and for many choir members, this is their first international trip.

Vocal performance major Daisy Lawrence is one of these first-time travelers.

“I’m so excited for all the new cultural experiences I’ll have and being able to perform in the cathedrals. I’m really interested in history and am excited to be premiering a new piece by composer Will Todd,” she says.

Concert Choir conductor and School of Music Director of Choral Studies Dr. Alicia Walker and choral studies colleague Dr. Jabarie Glass lead this long-anticipated choral tour. The trip includes a visit to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dover Castle and other historical sites. Once in London, public festivities celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubiliee await.

Walker says she believes there is no substitute for what students learn when they travel together.

"They'll be with friends they know well, having bonding experiences while making music at a really high level. They get to take what they're studying — most of them are music majors— and follow in the footsteps of great musicians that have been making music for centuries."

This is an amazing opportunity for both me and all of the members of Concert Choir to get to travel the world and do the thing that we love.

— Andrew Hebert, School of Music rising junior

The first choral concert is at the historic Southwark Cathedral Parish Church of William Shakespeare. The cathedral stands at the oldest crossing-point of the River Thames at what was for many centuries the only entrance to the city of London. During the 1100s, Southwark served as the main starting point for Christians on pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. It’s fitting the choral trip includes an a cappella performance at Canterbury Cathedral.

Southwark's concert, titled "Music of Light and Life," showcases three major choral works. Under Walker’s baton, the Concert Choir and School of Music's voice faculty members Tina Stallard, Janet Hopkins, Dominic Armstrong and Jacob Will will perform the London premiere of Requiem Gravare, with libretto written by Walker's husband Robert Walker and music by British composer Will Todd.

Requiem Gravare is a new translation of a traditional liturgical (or funeral rite) text beautifully woven together with the stages of grief, in an effort to find hope and solace in its midst. Singing the traditional requiem texts in English, the choir responds to these expressions with stunningly beautiful settings of solace and hope in a side-by-side journey toward acceptance.

"It's going to be especially poignant to perform Requiem Gravare again. I think current events heighten our awareness of what we're singing, especially when they're so present in our world and in our consciousness," explains Walker. "When you sing about loss, especially the death of a child, you can only imagine what that means to people. They need to hear there is comfort to be found. I think as musicians, it gives us a sense that we can do something when we feel helpless. Music gives voice to powerful emotions and thoughts we might otherwise find difficult to express.”

The mood shifts with the choir’s second selection, Mass in Blue, also by composer Will Todd. This dynamic work sets the Latin Mass text to jazz and blues idioms for choir and jazz soloist. Todd will be at the piano, along with a jazz combo. Featured soloist for this performance is UofSC alumna Kristin Claiborne.

The 40-member choir will have help filling the vast spaces of Southwark and Canterbury Cathedrals. Joining the ensemble are several Concert Choir alumni and singers from Columbia, SC's Shandon Presbyterian Church, as well as students from Battle Mountain High School in Vail, Colorado. Walker's son, Levi, is the high school's choral director and is a Concert Choir alum.

Walker says the trip would not be possible without the support from the university and School of Music's Dean Tayloe Harding.

The Concert Choir has a tradition of travel and performance in choir tours. It's really great our students get to resume traveling and performing again.

– Dr. Alicia Walker, Concert Choir conductor and School of Music Director of Choral Studies 

“The Dean is very enthusiastic about us doing these kinds of trips. Dean Harding and his wife Christine are meeting us in London. Their daughter Christina Grace recently graduated and is in the choir. I'm very excited to have them all there," says Walker. “The Concert Choir has a long tradition of travel and performance tours. It is very exciting for our students to resume performing internationally again.”

Financial support is needed for future trips.

Though the choral budget and some fundraising helped offset a portion of the $3,500 per student cost, the students pay for most of their own London expenses.

Not all students can afford the costs of travel. Walker says it’s a goal of the choral department to find funding that makes it possible for every student to have the opportunity to go on a choral tour.

“I think for most of our students, the great value of this trip is the broadening experience that comes with travel. Many of our students and their families don't travel internationally — I certainly didn’t. As a teenager, if I hadn’t been in choir, I would never have gone anywhere.”

“This is an amazing opportunity for both me and all of the members of Concert Choir to get to travel the world and do the thing that we love,” says Andrew Hebert, a rising junior music education major. “Thank you to everyone who has helped us realize our dream of getting to make music on a bigger stage.”

The choir joins singers worldwide who extend the boundaries of small communities to new corners of the world with their voices. That is of immeasurable worth.

Topics: Concert Choir, Voice Department

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