New Era for ATU Choirs Begins Sunday

Arkansas Tech University will offer its first choir concert under the direction of Dr. Christopher H. Harris on Sunday, Oct. 8.

The performance, entitled “Songs of Life,” will begin at 2:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 304 S. Commerce Ave. in Russellville.

“The title is synonymous with songs that have been written and inspired by the human experience,” said Harris, who succeeded the retiring Gary E. Morris as director of choral studies at ATU in summer 2017. “My favorite section is probably the most difficult section of our concert. You can’t really speak about life if you aren’t going to acknowledge death. The students and I have literally wept in rehearsal getting ready for this because these are songs that have been written in homage to the loss of life. This concert has a host of emotions and concepts that we experience as human beings.”

The works of composers Johannes Brahms, William Byrd, Moses Hogan, Felix Mendelssohn, Stephen Paulus and Eric Whitacre will be among those performed by the ATU Concert Chorale and Chamber Choir. Admission will be free and open to the public.

A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Harris is a conductor and choral composer. He earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Texas Southern University and began his career teaching in Houston, Texas. His choirs received numerous sweepstakes awards in state competition and invitations to perform with the Bay Area Chorus and as a demonstration group at the Texas Choral Directors Association Convention.

“Probably my strongest passion, if I had to put them in a hierarchy, is education,” said Harris. “Everything serves education, even performance. It all works together because you have some students who are more interested in the performance aspect, the teaching aspect or the creative process, which sometimes can include composition. My position as an educator and conductor allows me to teach, perform and compose music in a way that serves the students well.”

While living in the Lone Star State, Harris founded the Houston Master Singers. He remains affiliated with that organization as its artistic director. He is a former assistant director for the Houston Ebony Opera Guild.

Harris went on to earn his Master of Music degree in choral conducting from Ithaca College (N.Y.) and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in choral conducting and choral music education from Florida State University.

A published composer, Harris won the eastern and national divisions of the 2013 National Association for Music Education composition competition and the grand prize in the 2016 Ithaca College choral composition competition. His music has been performed internationally by mixed, men’s and treble choirs of varied ages and abilities.

Harris has performed as guest soloist for concerts with the Texas Southern University Choir, the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, the Houston Symphony Chorus, the 2013 Oswego School District production of Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem,” the choirs from Florida State University and the Tallahassee Community Chorus.

“When I was (at ATU) for my initial interview and audition, I was really won over by the students,” said Harris. “The students were attentive and responsive to my instruction. That’s something that is special. You don’t find that at every university. The faculty, even from my initial contact with them, were helpful every step of the way. Those same people have become amazing colleagues. You don’t always find that in your job. I recognized that early, and I jumped at the opportunity to take the position.

“I can’t rave enough about how wonderful these students are, and not just as musicians,” continued Harris. “They are truly talented and gifted musicians, and they are also wonderful people. Every day they make themselves vulnerable and allow me to jump into their hearts, so to speak, in order to get a deep, profound musical experience out of them. If you’ve never sang in a choir before, I think you should try it at least once. It’s an experience that you can’t duplicate. It’s one of the few things in life that everyone is working together at the same exact time toward the same exact end, and it’s almost always moving and tremendously beautiful.”