Anna Rinaggio, Campus Carrier asst. arts and living editor
This Mountain Day weekend, the Berry Singers performed for students and alumni in the Bell Recital Hall. The elite choral group sang eight pieces in total, showing off their level of ability and musicianship.
Paul Neal, the associate professor of music and director of choral activity at Berry, said that the Berry Singers consists of some of the best choral singers in Berry’s student body.
“Berry Singers is a choir made up of mostly upperclassmen, and most of them are music majors, so they really work to present some of the highest level of choral singing that we have here at Berry,” Neal said. “So we do very difficult works, but also just other pieces that are also going to be very accessible and open to the audience as well.”
Neal said that all majors are welcome and that any Berry student can audition for the group.
“They have to audition and it’s open to any student on campus,” Neal said. “So we do have our biology majors and math majors and different majors that are in the choir. We recommend any student that wants to audition, but it is a rigorous audition process.”
Neal said that his favorite part of working with the Berry Singers is how committed the students are to their art.
“I just love the high level of musicianship that they all bring to their rehearsal each and every day,” Neal said. “They are very committed students who want to see the best in choral singing, and so they come excited and organized and ready to present music at a very high level and they do it on a very consistent basis.”
For the Mountain Day performance, students performed pieces that had been sung by past Berry Singers choirs to celebrate the Berry tradition.
“The Mountain Day concert is sort of a celebration of Mountain Day over the last century,” Neal said. “We’re starting with a shape note tune song that’s kind of back to the colonial days of America that sort of celebrates the tradition of our singing that we probably found a hundred years ago here at Berry, and then we’re singing other music that was sung by the choirs over the last 30 years.”
For Junior Sydney Godfrey, the Mountain Day concert was a way for her and her fellow choir members to bring people together and show off their hard work.
“To be in the Berry Singers concert and being able to bring people to Bell [Recital Hall] and starting the weekend off by celebrating Martha and Berry and just being able to get the community together through music is really nice,” Godfrey said. “I think it’s a really sweet thing to do, and we worked so hard on this music. I know it’s going to be great.”
Godfrey auditioned for the Berry Singers during her freshman year and described the process as rigorous.
“You pick a song that you’d like to sing, and Dr. Neal plays the piano as you sing, and then you do some ear training exercises,” Godfrey said. “You sight read, so he’ll play the key you would be starting in, and you read a piece of music that you’ve never seen before. The ear training stuff would be stuff like he plays a whole tone scale, and you have to kind of sing it back to him, and things like that. You do a range. He checks your range just to see what voice part you’ll be part of, so soprano, alto, tenor, or bass, and you get the results usually a week after about who’s in. It was very intense.”
Godfrey said that one of her favorite parts of the program is its communal aspect and how people from any background can come together to make music.
“[I like] the beautiful music we make and how we do it as a community, because Berry Singers isn’t just music majors,” Godfrey said. “A lot of the guys in the choir are actually science majors, and I know we have a couple of the women that are science majors, so it’s kind of just like [a] community [that] loves to sing coming together.”
Sophomore Myles Mason had a solo in the Mountain Day concert, and he said that when Neal told him that he wanted him to sing the solo, he was both scared and excited.
“He was like ‘so we’re doing this piece and I don’t even want to audition it. I can’t hear any other voice singing it but you,’” Mason said. “So coming from him it was pretty insane. It was really scary, too. This is a big thing to have a solo, and scary, but it’s exciting and really rewarding, too.”
Mason said that his favorite part of the Berry Singers was the diversity and representation in both the singers and the repertoire.
“We have so many kinds of people and so many different shapes and forms and shades, and we all just love each other, and we respect each other’s differences,” Mason said. “I appreciate that about Dr. Neal most. He cares a lot about respecting diversity, and he really tries to make sure we have a diverse repertoire when we’re singing and we’re always being respectful of the culture of whatever piece we’re singing.”
Mason said that performing for Mountain Day could be nerve-wracking, but he felt that it was also rewarding and a good way to bring community together.
“[It is] really nerve-wracking just because there’s so many people coming to see it, but I think it’s really rewarding because we have worked really hard, and this is the biggest weekend of the year,” Mason said. “I think it’s just awesome to see so many different kinds of people on campus as well. It’s not just our parents showing up like it was in high school. The faculty, workers, everyone comes to support us, which is awesome.”