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College to host Choir Festival

Alicia Smith | Thursday, November 20, 2008

Twenty-four years ago, Nancy Menk, the acting Department Chair of Saint Mary’s music department started the High School Women’s Choir Festival. The Festival, which will be held again this year on Thursday and Friday, is comprised of 20 women’s choirs from five different states who travel to the College to perform.

“It’s a festival for high school girls’ or women’s choirs that we started 24 years ago,” Menk said. “It’s to promote good singing among high school travel choirs.”

The 20 choirs perform during the two-day festival in the O’Laughlin Auditorium on Saint Mary’s campus.

The event is not a competition; however, there will be three commentators giving remarks about each choir’s performances. The commentators this year are Dr. James Bass, Western Michigan University’s Director of Choral Studies, Dr. Jill Burleson, Ball State University’s Assistant Director of Choral Activities, and Dr. Eric Johnson, Northern Illinois University’s Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Ensembles.

Each choir will perform three or four different songs. After each has finished, one of the judges will instruct them on stage for 15 to 20 minutes.

“Every choir gets to have the chance to have this sort of clinic with one of the commentators,” Menk said. “Then the other two commentators give them written comments. The three commentators rotate all day so we’re watching different people on stage do the actual clinic.”

The choirs are chosen on a first come first serve basis. Each choir must fill out an application in order to be accepted into the event.

“This year I have a waiting list of six or seven more choirs that would like to come,” Menk said.

Menk created the Festival because, “there are a lot of festivals out there for mixed choirs. But at the time I started this, they didn’t have any that were just for high school girls’ choirs. This seems the most logical place to have it at this women’s college. We are really centrally located.”

During the Festival, five choirs will perform each morning, and five in the afternoon. At noon, Saint Mary’s own women’s choir will perform.

“That’s supposed to be sort of a highlight of the Festival. The idea is that we are a good model of what a good women’s choir can do, the kind of repertoire that we can sing and the kind of tone quality that we can produce and the kind of musicianship that we can display,” Menk said.

The Festival begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and will close for the day at 4:30 p.m. It will take place at the same time on Friday. The event is free of charge.