Mississippi Community College Choral Festival

Just returned from conducting the Mississippi Community Choral Festival in Meridian with my Vanderbilt colleague Ben Harris at the piano. This festival included nearly every community college choir in Mississippi converging on one central location - not unlike a state contest festival. With a total of almost 800 students, the population is divided in two and two clinicians are brought in to run rehearsals and prepare a short program. The other clinician was none other than Dr. Debi Chandler from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, who also happens to be a dear friend of mine from our days at Florida State University.

The repertoire for the event was ‘The Last Words of David’ by Randall Thompson, ‘Luminescence’ by Andrea Ramsey, and ‘Amazing Grace’ arranged by Keith McCutchen. 

Several aspects of this festival were completely new to me. First, I had never worked with an honor choir quite this large (nearly 400 students), and second, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with community college students in a setting such as this. Finally, the concert was to her performed in the MSU Riley Center with the choir occupying the entire bottom level of the concert hall, with the audience in the upper levels. This was my vantage point… not a bad view!

The choir was very well prepared on the Thompson and the hymn, but Ms. Ramsey’s piece was a little more difficult and took some more time. I was consistently impressed with the students’ work ethic and fastidiousness through some tedious and painstaking rehearsal. Moreover, these community and junior college students personify the idea of ‘music making for life’. This choir represented a large swath of ages and experience levels, and yet each of them had continued to make music a significant priority in their life. I was pleased to speak with so many of these students about what they wanted to do with their life, and each of them said that continuing to sing in a choir was a high priority.

In addition, each choir performed a short set for one another over the course of the festival. Everyone did a great job, but I heard particularly fine performances from Coahoma Community College – Kelvin Towers, Director; Pearl River Community College – LaDona Tyson, Director; and Jones County Junior College – Joel Dunlap, Director. Kelvin, your musical choices were exquisite, and your women sing with absolute clarion precision. LaDona, what a beautiful balanced tone you get from your choir, and great repertoire choices that perfectly accentuated your choir’s strengths. Joel, what a fine job your choir did on very challenging repertoire, and please let your final female soloist know how moved I was by her incredible performance.

The concert went extremely well - especially Amazing Grace! - and my experience with these students was one I’ll not soon forget. Their unique combination of spirit, musicianship, and work ethic made for a particularly memorable experience. My sincerest thanks to Ms. Vicki Blaylock for inviting me to work with these fine students, and to my student assistant Louise who was fantastic throughout the process. Louise, if you even need a reference letter, just email me! Finally, thanks to my friend and colleague Ben Harris for accompanying the festival, and keeping me alert during a harrowing drive home through the snow and ice!

PS - Bubba and Big D reunited! Can’t wait to see you in SLC my friend. What a special thing it was to see you in action again!

© Tucker Biddlecombe 2016