Photo provided by Jackson Beach
A lengthy charter bus ride is musical in its own right. I watch as drowsy heads plugged with earbuds bob up and down to the rhythm of potholes and uneven pavement. Garment bags hung from above swing left and right like a conductor’s baton. The pink haze of a rising sun warms the road like a sensitive major chord.
This charter bus left San Antonio at 6 a.m. on Friday to bring the Trinity chamber singers to Houston for their spring tour.
Over the course of two days, March 23-24, the choir performed for students of the Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts choral program, an audience at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and prospective students who attended a Trinity-sponsored event at the United Way of Greater Houston.
As a graduating senior counting down the days until graduation, I can confidently say that there’s nothing I’ll miss more than being a member of the chamber choir.
I could talk for hours about how much this ensemble has meant to me, but I’ll let others do the talking for me this time. After all, that last paragraph put me over my near my sappiness quota, and I don’t want to cry … yet.
Dr. Gary Seighman, associate professor in the Department of Music and director of choral activities at Trinity, spoke with me about the chamber singers and the touring process.
“We have 49 singers in the ensemble and approximately 25 different majors,” Seighman said.
But demographics hardly tell the whole story. When I asked Seighman what he thought made the group special, he had a lot to say.
“I think we all buy into the idea that we have a standard and that we’re going to try to reach it every year,” Seighman said. “And once a student is in the ensemble and they get the experience, they’re very quick to help pass that down to the younger singers.”
“They’ve helped establish a culture in which you all want to graduate and leave the choir program better than when you came,” Seighman said.
In the nearly ten years since he assumed his position at Trinity in August 2009, Seighman has seen many iterations of the chamber choir — and many, many tours.
The ensemble has performed in cities across the United States, including Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas and Tulsa to name a few. Last summer, the group served as the choir in residence for the Classical Music Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, performing at historic venues throughout the city as well as in a major church in Vienna.
Considering this impressive history, a two-day stint in Houston may seem insignificant. But tours like this one play a vital role in attracting talented students to Trinity’s music program.
“We’re always looking toward the future and to encourage people to continue singing,” Seighman said. “A lot of students may not necessarily do that after high school,” he added, “But if they see that this is what they could be a part of at a college level, it may make them more apt to continue singing past high school.”
Unfortunately, the chamber singer never graced my south Louisiana high school with their presence. But that wasn’t the case for Sophomore Michael Fain and Senior Kendall Walshak. “What drew me to Trinity’s choir program was the fact that you didn’t have to be a music major,” Walshak said. “And I was really excited that I was going to be able to be a part of something like this that I was able to do in high school.”
“The chamber singers toured to my high school my sophomore year, and seeing them live really made me want to be a part of it,” Fain said.
Between performances, members of the group enjoyed large pockets of free time to explore the city. From ice skating in the Galleria to admiring exhibits at the Museum of Natural Science, we took full advantage of our time in Houston—for the most part.
“I washed my mom’s car during my free time,” said Joel Holmes, senior.
Students also strengthened bonds through homestays. Rather than staying in hotels, members of the ensemble lodged with other members whose families are based in Houston. Several students expressed their appreciation for this experience.
“As an introvert, it can be hard for me to come out of my shell sometimes,” wrote Sarah Peacock, first-year in an e-mail. “I got to know everyone better and felt a sense of belonging while having so much fun with so many different people during the entire trip.”
What did I do for my home stay, you ask? Well, as someone with the soul of a 43-year-old man, I indulged in a few scoops of birthday cake-flavored ice cream and went to bed at a respectable 9 p.m.
On the final day of the tour, the chamber singers performed at an event for families of prospective Trinity students at the United Way of Greater Houston. Following the performance, we sat down individually with the families, sparking curiosity for the students and abating anxieties for the parents.
“Being able to talk to prospective students or future students afterwards about the programs and about what they want to do just adds to the experience more than singing for people who just come for the performance and then leave,” Fain said.
“It’s really easy to say the highlights of these tours are the performances,” Seighman said. “But for me personally a big highlight was when we visited the high school and the choir was talking to the students. It was really awesome to see how excited you were to talk not just about choir, but about how the other activities you were doing and the majors you were doing, and just being really proud of what you all do.”
On the way back from Houston, the bus’s air conditioner ceased to function and a variety of unpleasant smells permeated the air. But judging by the faces on the bus — faces of excitement and pride — you’d never know.