W&L’s University Singers Win Multiple Awards at City of Derry International Choir Festival University Singers placed third in the festival’s International Open Competition and received the prestigious Visit Derry Award for their final performance.
Washington and Lee’s award-winning University Singers, under the direction of Shane M. Lynch, placed third in the International Open Competition at the City of Derry International Choir Festival held in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, Oct. 19-23. The University Singers are the first American choir ever to be selected for this competition.
The University Singers presented their competition set on Saturday, Oct. 22 in the Guildhall, the primary concert space in Derry. This competition focuses on technically challenging music of different styles and eras, with each choir required to highlight particular skill sets within their music choices. The group competed against choirs from nine other nations for the coveted “Oak Tree of Derry” trophy. Fifty-six choirs were selected for various competitions in the festival, including noncompetitive and school events, and seven were selected for the International Open. Lynch said that many of the other choirs in attendance came from much larger campuses and were comprised of more students studying music at the graduate level.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment for our first international competition,” Lynch said. “Based on our performance in this festival, we were invited by two different festivals whose artistic directors were at the competition and offered us spaces in their competitions. This opens doors to even more opportunities.”
For the open competition, each group is required to prepare 13-15 minutes of music. University Singers performed the “Sanctus” movements from “Officium Defunctorum” by Tomas Luis de Victoria and “Messe pour double Chœur a cappella” by Frank Martin, “Snow Dance for the Dead” by Seán Doherty and “Ezekiel” by Stacey V. Gibbs. Gibbs, a Detroit native and one of the most prolific composers of spirituals in the United States, came to campus on Oct. 17 to help the group prepare “Ezekiel” for the competition.
The group also performed four additional pieces over the course of the weekend: two at the festival-closing Gala Concert and two at an event held for the surrounding community. For the Gala Concert on Sunday, Oct. 23, each choir was asked to choose music that highlighted their home country. The University Singers performed another piece they rehearsed with its composer: “Hallelujah” from “The Cry of Jeremiah” by Rosephanye Powell. Powell, a renowned gospel composer who is the director of Vocal Activities at Auburn University, visited campus on Sept. 30 to help the group prepare “Hallelujah,” which also featured W&L alum and former faculty member Josh Harvey ’00 on the piano, along with tenor Josh Lewis ’24. She also guest conducted at the Parents and Family Weekend Concert during her campus visit.
“Hearing the podium placement was another level of pride,” said choir president Ian Davis ’23. “The competition was adjudicated by musicians with an incredible depth of knowledge, and their praise was the perfect end to the competition weekend. In the end, it’s about putting our best performance together. We achieved that, and our podium placement was a bonus we can be really proud of as we continue to improve.”
Beyond the ranked prizes in the International Open and National Open portion of the competition, there are other awards given for specific elements required by the choirs. One of these is the Visit Derry Award, which considers every choir performance of the entire festival, incorporating the performances of hundreds of choirs and over 600 individual works performed. Sponsored by the City Council of Derry, the Visit Derry Award is given to the Outstanding Competitive or Non-Competitive Performance by a Visiting National or International Choir. University Singers received the award for their Saturday night performance of “Ezekiel.”
“Mr. Gibbs was ecstatic to hear of us winning this award,” said Lynch, “to the point that he now wants to compose a specific piece for the University Singers to do the world debut of next year.”
Read more about the competition online at derrychoirfest.com.