After countless hours together on a bus and numerous opportunities to share stages around the State of Arkansas during the first six weeks of the spring 2023 semester, the Arkansas Tech University Choral Artists are coming home.
They will perform as part of a program entitled “Love and Longing” at Witherspoon Auditorium, 407 West Q Street in Russellville, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Admission will be free and open to the public.
The ATU Choral Artists will be conducted by Carlin Truong, who is serving as ATU visiting director of choral activities and instructor of music for the spring 2023 semester.
Dr. Jon Clements, ATU professor of music, will conduct additional performance groups on Sunday. Dr. Mary Trotter, ATU assistant professor of music, will provide accompaniment on piano. Dr. Nathan Mensink, ATU assistant professor of music, will perform on saxophone.
In addition to the ATU Choral Artists, the program includes performances by the ATU University Singers, the ATU University Men’s Chorus, the ATU University Women’s Chorus and the ATU Concert Chorale.
Much of the program mirrors the one the ATU Choral Artists have performed during a spring semester tour of area schools. The ATU Choral Artists were also featured as the collegiate honor choir at the 2023 Arkansas All-State Music Conference in Hot Springs.
“One of the reasons why a lot of students come here is the opportunity to travel and perform,” said Truong. “So many of them come here for music education, so they want to be inside classrooms. That’s been really difficult the past few years. I was hired the Friday before school started this spring, and I wanted to make sure these students had as many opportunities as possible.”
The ATU Choral Artists’ tour took them to the high schools at Clarksville, Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, Alma, Fort Smith Northside, Van Buren, Russellville, Greenbrier, Little Rock Parkview and Bryant. They also shared the bill with Springdale Har-Ber High School’s choral music program for a performance at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
“What’s exciting is 50 percent or more of the choir directors we visited are alumni of our program,” said Truong. “Our students were sight reading music for hours on the bus. It was a beautiful thing for them to make music organically.”
Truong was completing his fall 2022 semester as a doctoral student at the University of Houston when he learned of the one-semester visiting director of choral activities opportunity at ATU in mid-December.
Approximately three weeks later, he was on the ground in Russellville making plans to guide the choral music programs at ATU during the spring 2023 semester.
“I had to select the repertoire without even seeing the students,” said Truong. “One of the things I felt really passionate about was finding something that students could emotionally connect to.”
Truong discovered that emotional connection in a piece entitled “Please Stay” by Jake Runestad.
“It’s a piece about mental health and suicide awareness,” said Truong. “With everything that is happening, I think we can all agree that mental health is a big issue and we all need to take care of ourselves. A lot of our students have been affected by suicide, directly or indirectly.”
From there, Truong began building a program that centered on the notion of love. He selected “Hope Lingers On,” an arrangement by ATU alumna and ATU Hall of Distinction member Andrea Ramsey. He chose “Somebody to Love,” which was written by Freddie Mercury and recorded by the band he fronted, Queen.
Truong felt the audience’s appreciation of the ATU Choral Artists’ performance at the Arkansas All-State Music Conference while it was still in progress.
“It wasn’t the stillness you would expect,” said Truong. “You could hear people in the audience being moved to tears. I turned around, and they were all already standing. It was so affirming for our students to realize they didn’t have anything else to prove to anyone. They’ve made it by being themselves.”