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Full Hearts and Full Stomachs: Southern Tour 2016

March 10th, 2016 by arouel16

IMG_4437From the moment the College Choir arrived in Pisgah, Alabama at 3:00am on Saturday morning practically half-awake, everyone we met— from our gracious hosts to the fellow singers and local musicians we performed with — were exceedingly generous and kind. They welcomed us into their homes, laughed with us, shared stories, and cooked us delicious Southern food. And they did all this despite the obvious lack of “ya’ll” in our Northern vocabularies (though some of us have already picked up the term — myself included). The South offered everything I heard it would and more: unparalleled hospitality, warm and sweet personalities (and even sweeter tea), and yes, butter…everywhere. Let’s just say the College Choir was very comfortable and well-fed.

But when we weren’t stuffing our faces with copious amounts of fried chicken and gravy or daydreaming of our next mouthwatering meal, we were singing up a storm. The College Choir performed three concerts over the course of four days, making for an action-packed tour that required a great level of stamina and endurance. The program itself, a collection of Southern spirituals and hymns alongside Francis Poulenc’s technically challenging Gloria, wasn’t for the faint-of-heart either. However, the College Choir was in good company, joined by the Tuscaloosa Symphony and the Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church Choir under the direction of David Harris’ brother Quint (the resemblance between the two of them is uncanny). Although performing a rigorous program several times in just a few days proved difficult and singing with a new set of singers was an adjustment, we were able to improve on each performance. And by the final concert, the mixed choir from Holy Cross and Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church had become a musical force to be reckoned with.

In between concerts (and meals), we visited various historical attractions around Alabama, including the DeSoto Caverns as well as Birmingham’s famous Vulcan sculpture, which is the largest cast-iron sculpture in the world. My favorite site, however, was the Civil Rights Institute, a humbling experience and sobering reminder of Alabama’s critical role in the American Civil Rights Movement.

As I sit here in the van on the way to the Atlanta airport and as we prepare to return to Mount Saint James, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about my final semester with the College Choir. With a full heart (and a full stomach), I’d like to thank each member of the tour choir for making this experience unforgettable. I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished, not just on this tour but throughout my four years at Holy Cross. Though I’ll be leaving Holy Cross in May, I’m excited for what’s in store for the College Choirs. – Adam Ouellet ’16

Lessons and Carols: A Reflection

January 8th, 2016 by arouel16
The Advent of Lessons and Carols was the perfect way for me to end my first semester here at Holy Cross.
We started learning the Christmas songs at the end of October, meaning we had around 5 or 6 weeks to learn the 11 songs we had to sing. Those 11 songs include Christmas classics, a Gospel song with a killer soprano solo sung by Allison Rancourt, a latin responsorial chant and even a piece arranged by Holy Cross’ unbelievably talented organ scholar Abe Ross. Not only was this music about 2-3 times more challenging than I had been singing in the past, but I had even less time to learn it, yet I was very comfortable with the task at hand. The combination of the exquisite direction of David Harris and the wonderful singers that surrounded me made me confident that I could learn every song by the concert. Not only did I learn the songs, but I improved as a singer. I’ve never had to use the letter “z” as much I did the past month, but you better believe my tongue is almost permanently in that position! Throughout the month I found the quality of my voice improving as well as the strength and durability of my voice. I not only had the pleasure of learning fantastic songs, but my voice improved as well.
The Lessons and Carols concert was easily one of the best concerts I’ve been a part of. Singing with a smile on my face isn’t usually difficult, but it’s usually something I have to be fairly conscious of. This concert it more difficult to keep a straight face then to smile. Every piece we sang produced a moment that gave me chills all over my body. I found myself so in the moment, so focused on the task at hand, that I started noticing harmonies and parts of songs that I hadn’t noticed before. Each song had unbelievable energy and I could feel it coming from the group. It was pretty indescribable, but everybody who sang in the choir knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Overall I left the concert feeling incredible. I am so thankful to have been able to sing with David and everybody else in that concert. I not only had a great time during the concert, but I had so much fun the whole semester singing with this group. I’d like to thank everybody for being so welcoming and I can’t wait to kill it next semester with you guys. Catch you on the flippity flip. – James Falconer ’19

Missing the Music: A Semester Away From Choir

November 9th, 2015 by arouel16

It’s an odd feeling seeing the clock pass 4:30 and not having to rush over to Hogan 5 to find a bunch of college kids breathing through straws.

As amazing as the opportunity to study in Washington, D.C. has been, there is one thing that it is sorely lacking: music. Sure, I can attend Chainsmokers concerts and put on Crosby, Stills, & Nash as I make dinner (most likely pasta with slightly undercooked sausage), but my experience down here has been pretty comprehensive with the exception of choir. There is something incredibly unique about the choral experience: it is rigorous as it is relaxing, academic as it is musical, and strangely relaxing as stressful as it may become.

It’s almost paradoxical in its existence: all the parts that one puts into choir (the rehearsals, the sectionals, the breathing exercises) can be stressful, daunting, and tiring. But come concert-time, the product seems almost effortless – the concordance of voices harmonized together to create a sound only a choir can make.

As someone who is now intimately familiar with the professional world, choir has played a large part in my professional life. Among other things, it has taught me to be independent within a larger collective. Instead of viewing yourself as singularly independent or only as part of a larger group, choir has shown that one has to be independent (aware, conscious, and deliberate in actions) but also very aware of the implications of your actions as an individual have on the greater collective you belong to. Choir has demonstrated that sometimes, your own voice may be too overpowering to create the best sound, and to achieve that, you must take a step back and listen to others’ voices. The list goes on and on, but the short of it is that choir has certainly impacted me for the better.

It’s certainly been both interesting and difficult to shift into a role from being a full-time student to a part-time student, but it’s achievable. And as to choir, well, that’s only made that transition easier.

-Max Lies ’17


November 4th, 2015 by arouel16

I come from an incredibly small school in the-middle-of-nowhere-Maine, and though I love the community I grew up in, it did have some drawbacks, especially where the arts were concerned. My high school choir was, at most, thirty girls, it was almost only girls because singing was considered a “feminine thing” and any guys who joined would be made fun of. The choir members we did have though were dedicated and preserved despite switching directors multiple times throughout highschool and never being taken seriously by other choirs in the state. Despite everything, my experience in  high school choir was a positive one, if anything it makes me appreciate the college choir that much more.

Singing in our first concert of the year two weeks ago, I was again struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be able to be a part of such a talented and hard working group. After going through high school with an all girls choir having, a base, a baritone, and a tenor section is thrilling, it adds another level to the music. The music itself is so much more complex than any of the songs I sang in high school and I love the challenge of learning the pieces. It is also incredible to me that so little of the time is spent going over notes and section parts, we focus so much on dynamics, tone, vowel pronunciation, and  perfecting seemingly small parts of the song which  lead to it resonating with the audience. During our concert I think this really became apparent. So many people expressed their admiration for the level of professionalism the choir had and the emotion we portrayed through the music. My parents were left speechless, unable to choose a piece they enjoyed the most because they loved each song and felt they were all executed well.

I know that we have had some difficulties this semester due to conflicting schedules and a seemingly short number of rehearsals to prepare for the concert. However, our performance was strong and has left me excited for our future concerts. I feel as a group we can only get stronger and am excited to see how we will improve throughout the rest of the year.  – Hannah Moore ’18

Singing in the City that Never Sleeps

October 19th, 2015 by arouel16

As the school year progresses, I’ve been able to experience and capitalize on so many amazing opportunities in the College Choir and Chamber Singers.  Just one short week ago, I was able to travel to New York City with the Chamber Singers!  From being special guests at a high-end restaurant and performing our repertoire for a group of esteemed individuals, to exploring the city and walking the Brooklyn Bridge together, it truly was a night to remember.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was when we all walked across the Brooklyn Bridge — some of us in pairs, some of us in small groups, and some of us alone.  As we walked down the designated path, the city was literally all around us.  As far as the eye could see, there were lit-up bridges, high-rise apartment buildings, universities, and the East River.  Walking in my performance attire and feeling extremely lucky, I traversed the bridge in awe.  In that moment, I felt completely free and lightweight, and there was no one I would rather have been with than my new family.  It may have been midterm week, but all stress I had was alleviated.  As I breathed in the air around me — surprisingly clean and fresh for the city that never sleeps — I felt a sense of contentment and happiness envelop me.  In one afternoon and night, I was able to create lasting memories with my dearest Holy Cross friends — and that is something I can’t wait to do again next year and in future trips and performances to come. – Elizabeth Driver ’19

Hitting the Ground Running

October 2nd, 2015 by arouel16

Hello everyone! School is in session and the Chamber Singers and College Choir have hit the ground running. With our PA$$ION concert just around the corner on October 23, we’ve been experimenting with different harmonics in order to create different qualities of sound. We’ve experimented with softer and pure vocal qualities as well as belting or “scream” type qualities. We differentiate these qualities by using terms like “whoop” and “HEY” to help realign our vocal tract to the space necessary to create a pure quality versus a “Broadway-like” one. It’s interesting how the slightest adjustment to the voice can change an entire feeling and meaning of a piece.

As for the Chamber Singers, there has been a lot of focus on the blocking for our concert in November that is entirely dedicated to opera. It’s been fascinating to watch as each person develops and commits to his or her character. People are discovering relationships and storylines with one another. Personally, I’ve found my character completely transform from the first week of creating her to our past rehearsal. After singing through all the pieces, we have begun to realize how our characters’ feelings shift from the beginning to the end of the show. We’re finding key moments in each piece to emphasize our character’s emotions towards each other. Whether it’s a solo or a group number, it’s fun to play around with each song and see how all the characters react in each piece. At times it has been challenging to stay in character while singing in German or French or even English! This concert is nothing like I’ve done before and I couldn’t be more excited to see this final product! I hope you are too! – Carley Buckley ’18

Be sure to check back next week for another blog update from the College Choirs 🙂

A Warm Welcome, A New Beginning

September 18th, 2015 by arouel16

“As I packed my bags into the car and drove away from tiny Topsfield and into the unknown, I was filled with anticipation and, I’ll admit, fear.  I had never lived away from home before and I was uncertain that my transition would be an easy one.  The worst part about leaving for college was leaving my home and family behind.  For the next six weeks, I would be without both of these vital parts of my life.  I was worried I’d be homesick and that goodbye was the hardest I’ve ever experienced.

But when I stepped into the choir room for the first time, ready to take on a challenging, rigorous week, all my troubles slipped away.  I was truly at home with those who loved music as much as I did, who I am now proud to call my second family.  The atmosphere from the moment I walked into the room was one of acceptance and one of learning, where everyone present was eager to find their voice, both literally and figuratively.  In one week spent in choir, I learned more than I ever have about my favorite instrument and how I can constantly be shaping and working it to be the best it can be, both inside and outside ensemble work.  I am so grateful to everyone who welcomed me with open arms and helped me in my transition to Holy Cross.  Rock on, Chamber Singers and College Choir.” -Elizabeth Driver ’19


“Let it happen. I didn’t really believe these words when I came to choir week. I’m Teresa Murphy, and I’m a first year at Holy Cross. In the five days before freshman orientation, I got to participate in choir week. One of the main focuses of this week was a central idea of “The Inner Game of Tennis”: Our bodies can learn to do anything; we just have to train our brains to get out of the way.

Our director, Dr. David Harris, argued that great singing could be achieved if our brain giving our body a specific goal, and then letting voice and body do its thing. This process involves no “pushing” or “trying hard” or emotional self-judgement, which I thought was impossible. If I sing badly, I scold myself to do better! That’s how I improve, right?

But throughout the course of the week, David encouraged us to “observe” and not judge. Also, we got into a new habit of setting specific vocal “goals” and then assessing them without emotional weight in the consequences. By the end of the week, I felt more free with my singing than I have in my life.” – Teresa Murphy ’19


Opening Ourselves to Experience

August 31st, 2015 by arouel16

“This is what choir is meant to feel like.” As cheesy as that nostalgic line may sound, this comment has stuck with me since Chamber Singers completed its weeklong intensive this Friday. After four days of sectionals, team building, vocology training, and straw phonation, the Chamber Singers have transformed into a well-oiled machine, equipped with superb sight-singing skills and prepared to tackle the new year. But apart from the exceptional strides we have made this week in technique and sound, I’m most astounded by how quickly we have been able to form a personal connection with one another. This year we welcomed eight new Chamber Singers to the ensemble, including two first-year students; and in just four days, we became a family. “How is this possible?” you may ask. While I think the cooperative nature of choral singing has certainly brought all of us closer, I believe it’s our vulnerability that has helped form our little community in such a short amount of time. By the end of the week, we were not afraid to miss a note or mispronounce a word because we trusted our fellow singers and, most importantly, because we felt comfortable in our own bodies and our rehearsal space. We opened ourselves to the experience; and in the process, we became a family.

-Adam Ouellet ’16

Thank You, Argentina

June 5th, 2015 by arouel16

If you’ve ever come to one of our concerts throughout the academic year, you’ll know that the Holy Cross College Choirs have quite the following. Whether it’s Lessons and Carols or Family Weekend, the College Choirs can always count on a responsive and excited audience; but of course, this is not something we take for granted. As chair of the choir for next year, I understand that the quality of our performances is what helps ensure a high audience turnout. In the end, we are incredibly blessed and grateful to have such a supportive, enthusiastic community on Mount Saint James. However, when we came to Argentina, I wasn’t sure if we would receive the kind of love and feedback from our Argentinian audiences as we always get back at home; after all, we were traveling to the other end of the world where we didn’t have our solid base of friends and family. But when we had our first concert at the Stock Exchange Building in Buenos Aires, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the concert sold-out, but the audience was extremely active and supportive; I could see many audience members grooving in their seats to “Uptown Funk” and some were even singing along to “Brindisi” from La Traviata. Our second major concert at the Cordoba Cultural Center received the same level of enthusiasm and response. Apart from a standing ovation and even an encore, several audiences members took the time to come up to us following the concert to commend our performance. For example, one gentleman came up to a group of us and said that our performance helped put a smile on his face after his father had been in the hospital that week. Another audience member, a voice teacher from Paris, France who had just happened to stumble upon our concert that evening, complimented our technique and praised our performance. Overall, everyone in the tour choir would agree with me that the Argentinian audiences were some of the best audiences we have ever performed for. However, it wasn’t their cheers and “bravos” that made them the “best” — it was the genuine love and happiness they displayed towards us. Thank you, Argentina for being such an appreciative and loving audience. 

-Adam Ouellet ’16

Mass and Travel to Córdoba

June 2nd, 2015 by rmfusc17

Yesterday morning, May 31st, we had the opportunity to sing at mass at a local Jesuit church in Buenos Aires. The church was beautiful. It was filled with many beautiful statues and paintings. It looked like the ceiling was going through some construction because there was a sheer cloth covering it up. However this did not take away from the beauty of the church. It was fascinating to see churches in Argentina. They are so different from churches in the U.S. They are full of rich detail and color with gold embellishments. The architecture is amazing. It was also interesting experiencing a mass in Spanish. The choir has many different levels of Spanish skills ranging from native speaker to no Spanish at all. For me, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I understood. It was very interesting to go through a mass service, something that I have done every week of my entire life, and at some points be completely lost and at other times completely able to follow what was going on. It was a great learning experience.

The church was the oldest Jesuit church in Buenos Aires. During the homily the priest thanked us for our presence at the mass. He told the congregation that although we come from different places we are all connected by the same faith, the same Jesuit bond, the same vocation and the same original sin. Even after we leave Buenos Aires and Argentina, we will still share the connection with the people of the congregation because of this shared experience. We will always have ties to the church in Buenos Aires because of our shared vocation.

Following mass we enjoyed a few moments of American bliss in Starbucks where we indulged in iced coffees, bagles and other American favorites that we have been missing over the past few days. The baristas asked us where we were from and what brought us to Buenos Aires. When we told them we were a choir they asked if we would sing for them. Once everyone had received their orders, we sang Waitin on the World by John Mayer. The baristas loved it and even gave us a thank you note on our way out. Following Starbucks we embarked on our 10 hour journey to Córdoba by bus. We arrived around 11 pm and ate dinner at a local restaurant and all promptly went to bed. We were so tired from our long ride. We can’t wait to explore Córdoba Monday and Tuesday!

-Rose Fusco ’17