IU choral ensemble director makes his debut at Carnegie Hall

Guest post courtesy of IU Communications colleague Jaclyn Lansbery.

When I learned that IU’s African American Choral Ensemble was made up of non-music majors who hadn’t auditioned prior to joining the group, I was surprised. After seeing them perform during the 20th Potpourri of the Arts concert last fall, I was blown away by their harmonies and the amazing voices coming out of the members on the stage.

Maybe it has something to do with the dedication and enthusiasm of the ensemble’s director – Raymond Wise, who took on his role in fall 2012 with the goal of recruiting more singing members.

Wise – a singer, pianist, composer, conductor and lecturer – recently had his Carnegie Hall debut, accompanying the 2014 National Honor Choir as they performed a Ghanaian folk song.

African American Choral Ensemble

IU graduate student Nana Amoah performs during an African American Ensemble performance on April 9, 2013 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Credit: Chinedu Onye.

The song was first performed by the choral ensemble during its annual spring 2013 concert after Nana Amoah, a graduate student in IU’s Department of African American and Diaspora Studies and an ensemble member, submitted the song for consideration.

Later, Wise gave the music to fellow conductor and friend Andre Thomas, the director of choral activities and professor of choral music education at Florida State University, who invited Wise to accompany the National Honor Choir in its debut performance in late March at Carnegie Hall.

“We performed on the main stage – the Stern Perelman stage in Carnegie Hall,” Wise recalled. “There were about 400 students from all over the nation who came and auditioned to be a part of that choir, and they performed and it was a wonderful experience. The acoustics in the room – it’s indescribable. You whisper, and it’s like a sweet, wonderful, warm sound in the room.”

Hinshaw Publications, an international choral music publishing company, published the piece in October. The song was also named Editor’s Choice, a national program sponsored by sheet-music distributor J.W. Pepper. The piece includes both Nana Amoah and the IU African American Choral Ensemble in its credit notations.

“The piece goes out to about 20,000 or 30,000 choral directors all over the nation,” Wise said. “So as the song goes forth, it will literally go all over the world and IU will be represented.”

Since Wise became conductor of the choral ensemble, membership has increased to more than 40 members each semester. Students receive credit for participating in the ensemble, which is part of IU’s African American Arts Institute and was formed in 1975. They perform a broad repertoire of spiritual songs, folk forms, traditional and contemporary gospel music, as well as works by African American composers.

“It’s not really about the numbers. It’s about providing an experience and helping them sing at a level of excellence,” he said. “But it’s certainly wonderful to find students who sing and are just kind of hiding their gifts and holding them because they don’t have time to be full-fledged music majors. So I’m always recruiting, always looking, and I always ask the question ‘Do you sing?’ And every now and then, someone will tell me yes.”

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