ATU Choral Artists Wow Audience at NCCO Conference

ATU Choral Artists 2019-20

As the final note filled the performance hall, Dr. Christopher Harris believed that the Arkansas Tech University Choral Artists had delivered their best possible performance at the 2019 National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO) Conference in College Park, Md.

He did not have to wait long for the audience to confirm his belief.

“There was a rousing standing ovation immediately,” said Harris, assistant professor of music and director of choirs at ATU. “There were only two of those at the entire conference. These are choir people. This is what they do for a living. They’ve heard every concert…amazing groups…so often times you get a courtesy applause at the end. There wasn’t a curtain, but if there had been, there would have been three or four curtain calls.”

The ATU Choral Artists performed a program of music by Ēriks Ešenvalds, a 42-year old Latvian and one of the most prolific choral composers in the world.

Simon Carrington, Yale University professor emeritus and co-founder of The King’s Singers at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, was among the choral music luminaries who wrote notes of congratulations to the ATU singers following their NCCO performance.

Harris used the word “overwhelmed” to describe his feeling of pride in his students.

“In the moment, I was able to keep it together, barely,” said Harris. “Afterward, I had a complete and utter breakdown. I was overjoyed that they not only received the opportunity to sing, but that they were able to sing so well once they were on the stage. We, more than anyone, know exactly how hard this music is and the focus it takes to sing in tune with attention to every, single detail. The fact that we were able to experience this was just so wonderful.”

Only nine universities in the United States were selected to perform at the 2019 NCCO Conference. It was the first time an ATU choir performed at the NCCO Conference. The only other choir from the Natural State ever selected for the honor was the University of Arkansas in 2017.

“The greatest benefit, by far, was the opportunity for our students to listen to other colleges from around the nation perform,” said Harris. “We listened to three of the top groups in the nation — Northwestern University, the University of Texas in Arlington and the Aeolians, which is a group from Oakwood University. They were just tremendous. It was profound, new and our students got to experience it from high-level choirs. I can’t otherwise provide that educational experience.”

NCCO Conference performance groups are selected through a blind, peer-reviewed adjudication process. Recordings from multiple years are submitted for review.

Harris said the entire vocal music faculty at ATU played a significant role in preparing the students for the NCCO performance.

“Everyone at the conference was oozing over our students and the artistry with which they sang,” said Harris. “The other choir directors from around the country were shocked that these kids from Arkansas could come in there and make that kind of music. I have received no less than 15 e-mails from major professors in the collegiate choral world and we’ve received three invitations to perform, including invitations to be a featured group on two international tours. The point is, whereas people in the choir world didn’t know Arkansas Tech even really existed before, they know now. They know good things are happening. They’ve heard our product, and they have a great respect for what we are doing here. We are now a national player in choir.”

The national conference is one performance in what stands to be a landmark academic year for choral music at Arkansas Tech. The ATU Choral Artists have also been invited to perform at the 2020 Arkansas All-State Music Conference in Hot Springs, and choral students from ATU will join instrumental musicians from Arkansas Tech for a concert at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 22, 2020.

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