The Grammy-nominated Westminster Williamson Voices performed a compelling repertoire of choral works at the 2019 Bartow Series concert on March 28. Following the all-school performance, the select choir, comprising 60 undergraduate and graduate students from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and its renowned founder and conductor, Dr. James Jordan, also engaged in masterclasses with Blair’s Symphony Orchestra and Singers.
Director of Vocal Music Ryan Manni organized this year’s Bartow Series performance, and, as a graduate of Westminster Choir College and three-year member of the Williamson Voices, he was delighted to bring this “incredible choir” to campus. “The ensemble’s artistry and musicianship are really impressive,” he said. “I wanted our students, who are only a few years younger than the musicians who were performing, to see and experience this, as well as gain some exposure to contemporary choral music they likely haven’t heard before.”
Known for its educational outreach and performance of new music, Williamson Voices has received artistic acclaim for its world-premiere recordings. The ensemble is the resident choir of the Choral Institute at Oxford (CIO), a unique partnership between Westminster Choir College and St. Stephen’s House at the University of Oxford in England that is regarded as one of the leading institutes in the world for the training of choral conductors.
Mr. Manni spent two summers at the CIO with Williamson Voices, the first as a choir member and the second as a conductor. He was the second undergraduate in program history selected for that honor. He also had the opportunity to perform at New York City’s Lincoln Center with the ensemble and perform in its Grammy-nominated work.
“My experience with Williamson Voices was life-changing as it put me on the career trajectory of teaching, conducting and working with choirs,” he reflected. “But the most meaningful part of it was the relationships we developed as choir members. While artistry and technical skill levels were always high, our connection to one another always seemed to come first. Dr. Jordan, one of my mentors, emphasizes music as a means of human connection, and I hope our students experienced that in the Williamson Voices performance.”
The masterclasses got underway after the conclusion of the morning concert, and Blair vocalists and instrumentalists alike had high praise for the experience. Audrey Sacks ’20, a member of the Orchestra and Singers, described the workshops as “incredibly insightful.” “We were encouraged to consider aspects of our performance that we had not previously thought about,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have been able to work with the Williamson Voices and especially to have had the opportunity to sing ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ with the choir.”
“Singing and working with Dr. Jordan and the Williamson Voices was a tremendous experience,” chimed in Nina Sigety ’19. “When Dr. Jordan asked us to do something that seemed funny or that we didn't understand, we got all these giggles and reassuring smiles from his students in the audience. It was really awesome to see that these amazing singers and people who have dedicated their life to music are still so down to earth. We sang Westminster's favorite song with them, and they all joined hands and helped us find the notes. It was amazing.”
Dr. Wendy Moore, wife of English department chair James Moore, is participating in Singers this year as an adult member of the Blair community. She enjoyed how Dr. Jordan ran the choral masterclass with playfulness and enthusiasm for students’ learning and with “impressive devotion” to Mr. Manni. “Mr. Manni teaches his classes at Blair with so much joy and with true generosity to each of his students,” she said. “What a marvelous opportunity for our students to not only work with this world class conductor, but also to witness this lineage of inspiring and generous teaching.”
“I had a wonderful time at the masterclass!” was how Hunter Small ’19 summed it up. “That was probably one of the most fun experiences I have ever had since, at the end, we had the opportunity to sing a song with the Williamson Voices. I was surrounded by beautiful voices, and when they started singing, my face lit up in awe. Hopefully, I will see them again sometime!”
Williamson Voices’ Blair visit is part of the School’s Bartow Series, a program endowed with the mission to expand students’ artistic experiences by bringing professional performers from far and wide to the Blair stage. The series honors Nevett Bartow, a dedicated music teacher and talented composer who helped shape Blair’s music program. Mr. Bartow taught at Blair from 1961 until his death from leukemia in 1973 at the age of 39.