MISSOULA – When Ali Archambault, a University of Montana political science and history major from Browning, heard the UM Chamber Chorale perform on campus, something struck her.
“I just knew at that moment, I had to be a part of this choir,” Archambault said. “They sang a song about processing grief, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I missed singing so much and immediately reached out to the choir director to ask about auditions.”
Fast forward through a successful audition and a pandemic, Archambault, along with 35 other close friends in UM’s Chamber Chorale – are about to embark on the opportunity of a lifetime.
The chamber chorale has been invited to a perform across England and Germany this May and June in some of the world’s top choral venues, competitions and festivals. To UM Choral Activities Director Coreen Duffy’s knowledge, this is the first time the chamber chorale has been invited to perform in an international choral competition.
“This is an incredible milestone for our students and institution,” Duffy said. “I’m thrilled for these students who finally get to perform and compete on tour after more than two years of relative choral isolation. I am thrilled for this group of students that we finally get to do the things we’ve been dreaming about.”
Duffy added that UM’s choral music programs are a cornerstone in UM’s acclaimed School of Music, and one thing that makes the school special is that UM students who are not music majors can enjoy a rich experience of music and the arts.
The UM Chamber Chorale includes students who audition to participate every year and performs regularly for campus and community events, singing a wide variety of repertoire, with a focus on living composers and composers historically excluded based on gender, race, or religion. UM’s Chamber Chorale includes diverse majors including neuroscience, wildlife biology and education who “still get to exercise their talent and drive for the arts” without being music majors, Duffy said.
Performing mostly difficult a cappella pieces, the choir will begin in London with performances at the historic Cadogan Hall and Southwark Cathedral. The choir then will travel to Germany to participate in a performance exchange with the University of Saarbrücken. Shortly thereafter, the choir will make its debut as a competing choir in the International Choral Competition Marktoberdorf.
Following the competition, the Chamber Chorale has been invited to serve as the masterclass choir for the International Choral Conducting Masterclass with renowned conductors Georg Grün and Ko Matsushita. The tour will conclude with performances in Munich and at the Dachau concentration camp, as well as a concert in Missoula’s sister city, Neckargamünd, which will promote friendship and connection through world harmony, Duffy said.
Before the European tour, the choir will perform at the Northwestern American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane March 9-12. An invitation to the NWACDA conference is one of the highest possible regional honors, and is a distinction nearly four years in the making, Duffy said.
“It’s all very busy, but rewarding,” Duffy said. “Because of the pandemic, our ability to travel and perform at this level was completely not an option for nearly two years. So now to be working hard together in preparation for being recognized at these prestigious events, it’s incredible.”
The UM Chamber Chorale meets to rehearse three days a week in a newly renovated, state-of-the art rehearsal hall – part of the School of Music’s recent building upgrades. Working through difficult pieces and nuances within the textual context is where the magic is, according to UM music composition major Kylar Sprenger, from Fort Worth, Texas.
”Dr. Duffy has such a strong connection to the music and the whole process of learning the music,” Sprenger said. “It’s difficult and hard sometimes, but when we finally emerge from just learning to read a difficult piece, to performing it together, it’s just an incredible thing to be a part of.”
Sprenger said the choir is a talented group of students with “rich musicianship,” which complements the choir’s community, belonging and friendship. Sprenger took a year off of singing due to the pandemic and said his return to the choir was a meaningful moment.
“The first time we performed live together, I got a little emotional,” he said. “There’s something different when you’re exposed to and feel the power of live music. I think we all have missed it immensely, and we’re so excited to get to share our music with the world.”
Duffy said the choir’s level of talent and musicianship is due in large part to UM’s “glorious history” in choral music and its long tradition of talented choral students and directors.
“In many ways, this is a dream job for me,” Duffy said. “Sometimes I pinch myself. Being part of the choral program at the University of Montana and getting to work in this field with these students is so incredibly rewarding.”
The choir is raising funds for all expenses related to student travel for the European tour. The public and UM alumni are invited to support the UM Chamber Chorale by sponsoring a singer, a concert or donating to the tour’s fund.
For more information email Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 406-243-6880. The choir also has a fundraising webpage.
Contact: Coreen Duffy, UM director of choral activities, UM School of Music, 406-243-6880, email@example.com; Dave Kuntz, UM Strategic Communications director, 406-243-5659, firstname.lastname@example.org.