Beginning this semester, East Tennessee State University’s Department of Music will be offering new opportunities for music majors and non-music majors alike.
Dr. Alan Stevens, associate director of choral activities, and Dr. Matthew Potterton, director of choral activities, will be directing four new choirs, continuing the long history of the ETSU chorale that was begun by for mer Director of Choral Activities Dr. Thomas Jenrette.
Stevens, who was hired as associate director of choral activities in 2012, continued the chorale after Jenrette’s retirement in the spring of 2012.
During this time, he evaluated what needed to change in the chorale and decided that the campus would benefit from more ensembles. As a result, four ensembles were created.
Two of these ensembles include the men’s and women’s choirs.
Though they have existed off and on over the past few decades, the men’s and women’s choirs have not consistently existed within ETSU’s Department of Music.
Stevens and Potterton are hoping to change this, building up the groups so that they can grow, develop and hopefully maintain their presence at ETSU.
Neither the men’s nor the women’s choir will require auditions. Both will meet on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:15 a.m. until 12:35 p.m.
While the choirs will include a lot of traditional classical music, they will also branch out to include some more popular styles and will not be as traditional and focused as the chorale.
The chorale itself will require auditions and will meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:15 a.m. until 12:35 p.m. Potterton, who will also be directing the women’s choir, will direct the ensemble.
One of the biggest changes that has been made to the chorale is its size. Previously, the chorale was comprised of anywhere from 85 to 100 students, and occasionally even exceeded that number. The new chorale will be considerably smaller, most likely consisting of 24 students.
“The new chorale will be what’s classically referred to as a chamber ensemble, a much smaller group of singers,” said Stevens. “So it will be music that’s written for a smaller group, rather than music that’s composed for a larger group of singers – that will be the big difference.”
In addition to the new men’s and women’s choirs and the revamped chorale, the Department of Music will also be bringing back the Jazz Singers, which initially ended in 1989.
“For the past couple of years there have been two groups called 10BucsWorth and 10 Times a Lady,” said Stevens, “and those groups we just kind of decided that instead of doing the separate men’s and women’s groups, which we’re going to do in the larger choirs, we’re going to take those two little groups and combine them back to the Jazz Singers.
“The Jazz Singers is somewhat self-explanatory, but it’s going to be a little bit more of what we in the music world call Jazz fusion, where it’s kind of Jazz style, but fused with pop.
“So there will be a lot of contemporary arrangements of, I hate to say it, but kind like the idea of what most people would understand from “Pitch Perfect,” where you take a pop song and turn it into an a cappella vocal arrangement. And I think we’re really excited about that. I’m also really excited because there are a lot of students who love to range, who love to explore composing, and they’ve been creating some student arrangements of pop songs that we’re going to do Jazz Singers.”
In addition to creating new groups, the Department of Music has also changed the weekly time commitment that students will have to devote to their respective choir.
While 10BucsWorth and 10 Times a Lady were required to rehearse six hours each week, all four of the news ensembles will only be required to rehearse three hours each week. Stevens hopes that this will open the door to students who are interested in music and want to be a part of it, whether they are music majors or not.
Stevens also hopes to get more students involved on campus.
While 10BucsWorth and 10 Times a Lady had a sizeable following in the community, few students went to the concerts.
Stevens is planning a couple of different events with the Jazz Singers that will hopefully change that. The Jazz Singers are already scheduled to perform at the Starbucks in the Culp once a month in the evening for what the Department of Music is calling Java and Jazz.
Stevens is committed to maintaining the high quality for which the choirs initially had a reputation. The changes were not made to compromise the quality of the choirs, but to open the door to students who want to sing, but aren’t necessarily majoring in music.
“We just want to attract more people who are really interested in music,” said Stevens. “Kind of open the bubble of Mathes Hall to everyone on campus who’s interested in music and get as many people involved as possible …
“I’m really excited about Dr. Potterton being here this year and I think it’s going to be a great experience for us and for the students, and I hope that anyone who likes to sing will venture to join us.”