Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

University Chorus Debuts Three W&L Student Compositions

In a first for Washington and Lee University, the University Chorus performed three new choral works composed by three senior music majors during the 2009 Holiday Concerts.

Shane Lynch, director of choral activities, said that the pieces started as a project for the composition class of Terry Vosbein, professor of music. “This has never been tried before with the W&L chorus, and I’ll admit it’s a bit of a scary proposition when you open yourself up to performing student compositions because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Lynch said.

Lynch has undertaken this sort of student project at other schools and “we had to dump some of the pieces because it is a learning process and the compositions weren’t good enough,” he said. “So I was pleasantly surprised that we ended up with three great compositions. It’s something W&L should be really proud of. This is the perfect example of what we mean when we tell students that the advantage of a school like W&L is that you will have opportunities you wouldn’t have at other schools.”

Lynch, a noted composer and conductor, explained that, like a novel, choral works go through an editing process, partly to identify places that are hard to sing. “Two of the student composers got to experience the editing process in real time because they also sing with the University Chorus,” he said.

The compositions are each two to three minutes long and have a central theme of winter.

C.J. Boyd, a music composition major from Shrewsbury, W.Va., said it took him about 20 hours at the computer to compose his piece, called “Christmas Eve” from a poem by American poet Eugene Field from the 1890s. “Field wrote children’s poetry, and this poem is an anticipation of Christ coming for Christmas. But at the same time it’s really dreamy, like he’s trying to get the child to go to sleep at the same time,” he said. “The most interesting part for me was being in the chorus and learning it with the other singers. It was a first for me to have the piece I wrote taught back to me.”

Will Stewart, a music theory major from Winchester, Tenn., chose a text by Henry David Thoreau for his composition. Titled “There and Here,” Stewart described it as being about the dichotomy of living in the realistic world and the more ethereal world. “It’s up to individual listeners to interpret it as they wish,” he said. “I had to find a poem that really spoke to me and inspired me to compose. Then, as I went through the process of composing, it took on a life of its own.”

Andy Budzinski’s composition “Blow, Thou Winter Wind” comes from a passage in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

Budzinski, who is from Lawrenceville, N.J., is a music composition major, but he noted that “it’s the first vocal work I’ve done.” Although he sings with the university’s Chamber Singers, rather than the chorus, Budzinski was able to attend some rehearsals. “Singers all have very unique voices, and it’s a completely different ballgame to hear it performed than to see it on the page,” he said.

Conducted by Lynch, the University Chorus consists of 60 singers who perform between four and six concerts on campus each year. Its repertoire includes music from all periods, and they also tour internationally every other year. The most recent tour was to Germany in 2007. Other tours have included Austria, Italy, Cuba and Scandinavia.

The Holidau Concert also featured the university’s Wind Ensemble, String Ensemble and the University Chorus presenting traditional and contemporary arrangements of favorite holiday tunes.

Audio files of the University Chorus can be heard at http://music.wlu.edu/content/view/23/51/