Extracurricular Activities – Lawrence Civic Choir

Founded in 1975, the Lawrence Civic Choir (LCC) has been sharing its love of choral music with the community for 40 years. A number of LCC members have connections to KU and the College; many are current students, alumni, staff or faculty members. We caught up with staff and faculty involved with LCC to hear about their love of music and their involvement in the group just in time for the 40th anniversary gala on Sunday, April 12 at 3:30 p.m. at the Lied Center.

Alecia Gray (left) and Abby Magariel during the LCC Cabaret performance singing “Marry the Man Today” from “Guys and Dolls.”

Alecia Gray is a public relations manager for the School of Public Affairs & Administration

I’ve been singing my whole life – grew up in a family of musical people. In fact, when I was about six (yes, six), my mom and I performed an operetta of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at a summer program for kids in Atlanta, my birthplace. [It was during the “Atlanta Child Murders” and the program was to keep kids at safe places during the summer months. I had no idea about this at the time, I was simply performing for other kids and loved it.] I love singing for many reasons: 1) it is a great connection to my family – yes, we’re that kooky family that sang their way down the road on family trips; 2) as a shy kid, I was able to perform and try out different personas; 3) it’s a great mid-section workout; and 4) there’s so much beautiful music to sing!

When we moved to town, I searched out the group and was happy to find that they were starting up rehearsals within a month of us moving here. I was telecommuting to my job in Orlando, where we moved from, so it was important for me to get involved early on with the Lawrence community and make friends. The group was warm and inviting, and I immediately felt connected to Lawrence because of the choir. It also helped that they were singing some pieces that I had done in college, so I didn’t feel like I was completely in over my head.

The choir was my first real introduction to Lawrencians, and I’ve made some good friends in the group. The music is challenging and beautiful, and the director, accompanist, and choir members are supportive and fun! I was a member of a prestigious community choir in Orlando, and while the music we made was gorgeous, it wasn’t much fun. I also love that I was in choir while I was pregnant with my son and was able to sing in the spring concert a few short weeks before he was born. I had to borrow a bigger dress for the concert, and I swear that I was able to hit the high notes easier while I was pregnant with him! Some of his first babysitters were choir friends, and since we’re here with no family close by, it was wonderful to know that I could lean on them.

For the Gala, we’re doing the Brahms “Requiem” (in English) and an original piece by our accompanist, Geoffrey Wilcken, who happens to be a music composition PhD student. Geoff’s piece, “One Out of Many,” was actually commissioned by the choir for the Gala, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece! The lyrics speak to the strength of song and the composition is truly lovely.

I’ve also enjoyed singing in every Cabaret performance (I can’t help but be happy singing musicals), Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and a solo in Faure’s “Requiem.” This last December we even went caroling on Mass Street – what fun!

Members of the Lawrence Civic Choir caroling on Mass St. in December 2014

Ben Chappell is an associate professor and director of graduate studies for the American studies department

I studied violin and piano and sang in choirs growing up, and was a music major as an undergraduate. Choral singing has always been very special to me because I had mentors, including my uncle who was a music teacher, who believed that just about anyone could learn to sing and contribute to a choir. Singing in harmony was also part of my experience growing up in the Mennonite church. The sound that a group of people can make by singing different notes together creates extraordinary experiences both for listeners and participants, and you don’t have to buy an instrument.

I joined the LCC this semester. Before I became an anthropologist, I was a musician and trained to be a choir director and music teacher. I have sung in choirs since I was very young, but since I went to grad school I have had less time for it. This semester I was on fellowship, and since the Brahms Requiem is one of my favorite choral pieces, I decided to give LCC a try.

My favorite part of being in LCC so far is the rigor of the rehearsals, which are as intense as any I experienced singing in school and select choirs growing up. This is a group that really wants to work at getting better, and our director Steve knows how to get the best from us.

The German Requiem by Brahms is an exceptionally beautiful and interesting piece of music. It’s really one of the best things you can listen to for choir and orchestra. I got to perform it as a student at Bethel College in 1992 (Rachel Dirks, one of the directors of the Lawrence Community Orchestra, was also part of that performance), and I am using my score from that concert for the Gala.

Jenny Gleason is an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology

I was in choir through 8th grade but then didn’t sing again until I was a postdoc in 1996.  I found that I enjoyed singing the major choral work and being part of a large group. I joined the LCC in 2002, when I first came to KU.  I had enjoyed singing in a town chorus when I was a postdoc and was happy to find that Lawrence had one as well.

In addition to the opportunity to perform great music, I’ve really enjoyed the friends that I’ve made.  I don’t think I would have met them without the choir.

The Brahms Requiem, which we’re singing in the Gala, is definitely one of the best pieces we’ve done and I can’t wait to hear it with the orchestra.  I’m also excited that we will be premiering a piece commissioned just for our Gala by Geoffrey Wilcken, our accompanist, who is currently pursuing a PhD at KU.

Jeremy Martin is an associate professor and director of graduate admissions in the mathematics department

I sang with the LCC the year I arrived in Lawrence, which was 2005-2006.  I then took a hiatus from the group for several years (I started to sing with some of the KU choruses and then got involved with making music at Americana Music Academy), but returne947077_158223504353223_1884763874_nd this semester to sing the Brahms Requiem, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces of choral music – the culmination of my choral experiences in college was getting to perform it at Lincoln Center in NYC.  I’ve always loved music, and I’ve been singing in choruses since my senior year of high school.  The voice is the best musical instrument there is – everyone has one!  To me, there is no art form that can capture the human experience better than a full choir singing together.

Tracy Russo is an associate professor of communication studies

I joined the choir last fall.  I had sung at Syracuse a long time ago and with some church choirs in the meantime, but nothing for quite a while. I heard the choir perform the Mozart Requiem last spring and decided to join. Singing is intoxicating – the experience of being part of a sound, hearing the chords come together through the most essential instrument – the human voice – is fantastic. I also like the combination of physical and intellectual effort and how they work together.

Last night, as we rehearsed the Brahms Requiem that we are singing on Sunday, I began thinking that this powerful piece has moved people across the world since 1985-1868. The piece is sacred, but non-liturgical since it reflects a Protestant outlook rather than the traditional Catholic frame of most requiems. It’s very positive in its message, with wonderful melodies and emotion.  So music ties us together across time and space, as well as in a single room together.  (Look, you’re making me rhapsodize – probably an appropriate term!)

There are two pieces in this Gala – the Brahms and a gorgeous piece written for the choir on the occasion of this Gala by our accompanist, Geoffrey Wilcken (who is a doctoral student in music here at KU).  It, too, celebrates the joining of voices. I love them both.