The Washington and Lee University Singers, an a cappella choir, is the featured collegiate performing choir at the 2013 Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) Conference, at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, on Friday, Nov. 22.
"This is a really big deal in the music world, and it's the first time W&L has had a music ensemble selected for this type of professional-level conference performance," said Shane Lynch, director of choral activities and conductor of the Washington and Lee University Singers. "VMEA selects only one college choir to perform at the conference each year and, needless to say, it's quite an honor to be the one selected."
The choir will perform a varied selection of music for about 25 minutes, including "Mother and Child," composed by Lynch, a noted conductor, composer and music educator. "For me, professionally, it's the equivalent of having a peer-reviewed book or journal article published," he said.
The W&L University Singers tours nationally or internationally every year. The group consists of 48 students, of which only one third are music majors. The others are interested non-majors representing more than 30 of the 37 undergraduate majors at Washington and Lee.
"This is something W&L as a whole should take a lot of pride in," Lynch continued. "Groups like this are the epitome of the liberal arts, with people from a lot of different disciplines coming together to perform at a high level."
Choirs have to submit several years' worth of recordings for conferences because the selectors want to see consistency. "They don't want a choir with a really great group of seniors, and then the next year they are not up to snuff," he said.
At W&L, last year's group consisted of older students; 25 of the 48 members of the group have since graduated. So this year's choir has a lot of new faces. "It's a fun group, and they all want to be part of the choir," said Lynch. "As one student commented to me, 'we work hard because we're sounding really good, and people like being good.'
"When I assumed the position of director of choral activities in 2009, I was charged with building a nationally recognized choral program. But, in all honesty, I thought it would take twice as long to get to this point."
One of Lynch's initiatives is the innovative Choral Conducting Mentorship Program for talented young musicians pursuing a career in that field. Senior Morgan Luttig, from Lake Forest, Ill., a music major with a minor in education policy, is in the program and will conduct "Long Road," by Ēricks Ešenvalds, at the VMEA conference.
"It's absolutely thrilling," said Luttig, "and I'm really excited to be able to conduct in front of music educators around the state. I can get feedback from them on how I'm doing and how I can continue my music career and become a better educator."
Happy to cede some of his spotlight to a star pupil, Lynch said that this is the first time he has invited an undergraduate student to conduct a top choir at such a venue. "It's not something that is typically done, but Morgan is someone truly special, and she has really great gifts as a conductor. I think her ceiling is limitless."
Lynch also acknowledged the Office of the Dean for funding the group's appearance at the event.