Unique Opportunity for Heritage Choir in D.C. by Rachel Phelps
While the majority of MNU’s class of 2013 was gathered on campus for commencement, two graduates were wrapping up a choir rehearsal in Washington, D.C. It may seem like a big moment to give up for a choir trip, but the seniors have no regrets.
“Spending graduation day in D.C. was definitely the right decision,” said graduating senior music education major Hannah Lukehart as the National Capitol Festival Chorus took their seats before the May 13th concert.
Her comment came at the end of a whirlwind weekend of rehearsals, singing and sightseeing in the nation’s Capitol. Lukehart was one of a group of 20 in Heritage Choir from MidAmerica Nazarene University who performed at the National Capitol Choir Festival in Washington D.C., May 11-13. The group performed at two national monuments and in an evening concert at National City Christian Church. The 17 students and three alumni were invited to the festival through MNU choral conductor Dr. John Leavitt, who was the artistic director of the festival.
“I am invited to conduct at choral festivals every year,” says Leavitt, adding that this is his fourth festival in D.C. “This is the second time I’ve been able to include the MNU choirs, and the first time I could bring my own accompanist.”
Four choirs participated in the festival by invitation, including Newman University Troubadours of Wichita, Kan., Trinity Lutheran Church Senior Choir of Leavenworth, Kan., and The Celebration Singers of Cranford, NJ. The chorus was comprised of 80 voices, giving MNU students a chance to interact with a diverse group of other musicians.
“As a singer, it was nice to get to sit by people I didn't know because it caused me to listen differently and just added a different element to singing,” says senior music education major Melissa Whitehead.
Whitehead had another unique opportunity at the festival. She and senior Reggan Reynolds conducted the festival chorus during performances at the World War II Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial May 11. Leavitt didn’t tell either of them that they would be doing this until they had arrived at the World War II Memorial, though they had conducted during rehearsal that morning.
“When we were at the monuments and (Leavitt) pointed at me, my heart stopped for a second,” Whitehead says. “But then I put the nerves behind me and thought of how I would never get this opportunity again so I needed to live it up.”
Whitehead said the outdoor environment of the memorial was a challenge, as people were walking by, and noise from airplanes and vehicles added distractions.
“Conducting was stupendous. I cannot describe my heart’s gratefulness. It was such a great learning experience and was awesome to be thrown into such a vulnerable moment, and running full throttle,” says Reynolds.
A group of World War II veterans were visiting the memorial when the choir sang, and Leavitt said several of them thanked him for the music they provided.
“This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to conduct at the monuments, and I received a number of compliments from those who listened,” says Leavitt. “I hope it’s a memorable experience for the choir members as well.”
The mini-concerts at the monuments Saturday and the daily rehearsals culminated in a concert at National City Christian Church. Aside from numbers performed by the full chorus, both MNU’s Heritage Choir and the Newman University Troubadours had individual sets. MNU junior music major Sean Hephner played Prelude pour le piano by Claude Debussy as a solo piano piece.
As well as performances Leavitt said the focus of the trip was on building relationships within the choir throughout the weekend. Reynolds said meeting new people and deepening her relationships with other singers from MNU was her favorite part of the trip.
“I had the privilege to bond with many others that I would not have had the chance to had it not been for this festival. I love that the Lord brought us together through our passion for singing, and I met some astounding people,” says Reynolds.