By Mike Myers and Grace Snell, Videographers
MOUNT BERRY, Ga. — On Thursday, Oct. 17, the music department hosted its annual Berry College Choir Festival. The event included an all-day workshop for high school students in the region and culminated in a final showcase performance held at 4 p.m. in the Ford Dining Hall on campus.
Approximately 380 students representing 21 different high schools participated in the festival. A total of six assembled choirs performed: Berry Singers and the Berry Women’s Choir; two choirs comprised of both high school and college students, the treble choir and the mixed choir; and two local honor choirs invited from Creekview and Etowah High Schools.
Engaging with these local high school students is the primary purpose behind this festival, according to Paul Neal director of choral activities and associate professor of music at Berry.
“It’s really an opportunity for us to recruit students to Berry that just enjoy singing,” explained Neal.
High schools of various sizes and locations were represented at this event, ranging from 6 to 40 students from each school. Some students drove as many as 4 ½ hours to participate in this festival. Affording this opportunity to smaller schools is one of the important aspects of this event, according to Neal.
“It really allows some of the smaller programs in the region, who have only a few kids in their program, to come and experience a choir that’s of a large quality,” Neal said.
While the size of this annual choir festival is a good thing, Neal explains that it also poses one of the greatest challenges to planners.
“It’s always the numbers, it’s the amount of kids that come. We have grown over the years to where these numbers have just really exploded. It’s a good problem, but it is a problem when you have 400 plus singers that are moving around and moving from one venue to the next venue and rehearsing in different spaces…” Neal stated.
There were other challenges unique to this year’s choir festival. According to Kara Truitt, Dr. Neal’s student assistant and the event planner for this performance, one of the biggest difficulties this year was hosting in a new venue, due to the ongoing renovations in the Ford Auditorium. This change of location presented planners with many new logistical challenges, according to Truitt.
Despite careful preparation, an unexpected challenge arose as the date of the festival approached.
“We had everything ordered and everything set about a week out — nametags all printed, programs set in place, and then we caught that there were three schools who hadn’t put their students in the registration yet, so we had about one hundred fifty more people add in like the last week before the choir festival,” Truitt said.
The Berry Women’s Choir sings Hildegard von Bingen’s “O Frondens Virga” at the 2019 High School Choir Festival.
One highlight of the concert was the Berry Women’s Choir’s performance of “O Frondens Virga” by Hildegard von Bingen, said to be the first female composer in history. The choir members formed a circle around the audience to perform this piece from the 12th century. Despite the hundreds of people present, the audience was completely silent during the presentation, according to Truitt.
Another standout moment was when the Berry Singers performed the spiritual “Rock-a My Soul.”
“Probably my favorite part of it is when our top audition choir here at Berry, the Berry Singers, they sing for all the high school kids, and they’re just an impressive group of people here at Berry, and so we always pick something that’s going to be super exciting for the high school kids,” Neal said. “We finished and we cut that last note off, and the whole place just erupted because of the students’ performance.”
This year’s performance was well run and organized and an overall great success, according to Neal
Truitt shared her view saying, “I think it was the best choir festival yet, even though we had so much planning craziness at the beginning of it, it all turned out great.”