MSU Choral Program Resounds as National Leader

There is a united voice of excellence sounding from the MSU Choral Program.

Graduate semi-finalists in the national conducting competition sponsored by ACDA, including MSU grad students. J. Christine Le, Brandon Williams, and Elizabeth Hermanson.
Professors Sandra Snow, far-left and David Rayl, far-right, with Jessica Glaser, center-left and Christine Le, center-right, finalists in the ACDA Graduate Conducting Competition.
The 22 MSU undergraduate students who attended the ACDA national conference in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Robert Harris with recent recipients of the Robert Harris Award for Excellence in Choral Performance. Brandon Williams, Zeb Highben, Holly Lewis, Dr. Robert Harris, David Rayl, Christine Le, Kyle Zeuch.

With renowned faculty, innovative curriculum, and prestigious performance opportunities, the MSU Choral program attracts diverse students from across the U.S. and Canada. What’s more, the program’s nearly 100 percent placement rate ensures graduates with master's and doctoral degrees go on to influential careers.

Alumni Derrick Fox never hesitates to cite the influence that MSU professors and choral program leaders David Rayl, Jonathan Reed, and Sandra Snow continue to have on his life and career.

“Michigan State was one of the only choral programs where I had the opportunity to work with three of the top choral practitioners in the nation,” says Fox, now an assistant professor of choral music education and conducting at Ithaca College in New York. “I was drawn to their commitment to nurturing conductors, teachers and musicians, and to leading and inspiring singers to achieve at their highest musical potential.”

Prominent voices

Like many choral alumni and students, Fox was front and center with dozens of Spartans at the 2015 national conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Salt Lake City, Utah, in late February. With six presenting alumni, four students in the semi-finals of a national conducting competition, and 30 undergraduate and graduate student attendees, MSU affirmed its position as a leader in choral education at the bi-annual conference for choral professionals and educators throughout the world.

“Given the fact that so many of our alumni and students presented as invited guests or were finalists in competitions puts our program at the epicenter of American choral music,” says Reed, noting that the conference hosted nearly 5,000 attendees. “It shows that our students and graduates are well-prepared professionally as artists and scholars in the field.”

Rayl agreed that MSU's solid presence at the conference rivaled that of any program in the country. Alumni presented on issues related to choral performance, repertoire, and assessment, while student conductors held their own against staunch competitors.  Four of the 16 semifinalists were MSU students—more than any other school—and two advanced to the finals. The ACDA also recognized the MSU student chapter as one of two outstanding ACDA chapters in the country based on the chapter's portfolio of social, educational, and community-based activities.

“The quality and showing of our presenters, competitors, and our chapter all indicate that MSU is playing a significant role in building leaders in the choral profession,” says Rayl.

MSU undergraduate student Jessica Glaser and graduate student Brandon Williams were among the semi-finalists in the conducting competition. Williams credits his strong placement to his experience at MSU.

“I knew MSU had a quality program, and that I would be working with a trio of world-class faculty,” says Williams who came to MSU for his doctoral degree after 10 years of teaching and conducting. “Drs. Rayl, Reed, and Snow are all different people with different styles. As a student, you get something different from each of them. That’s why we students all come out as well-rounded as we do.”

Other MSU choral alumni say the same when asked to reflect on their alma mater.

“The three main choral faculty are distinguished performers and scholars in their own right,” says Andy Crane, newly appointed director of the nationally renowned Brigham Young University Singers. “When I came for my audition visit, I was very impressed by their kindness and approachability. I knew I would feel very comfortable there.”

Alumna Kelly Miller also recounts how MSU became her first choice for graduate school after seeing Rayl and Snow teach a summer session. Miller came to MSU as an older student, having taught in public schools for several years.

“I was given the unparalleled opportunities of being instructed by three of the finest practitioners in the discipline,” says Miller, coordinator of music education and director of women's chorus and ensembles at the University of Central Florida. “I have also experienced the nurturing of the MSU student that follows graduation as Drs. Rayl, Snow, and Reed continue to guide, direct, and encourage my path.”

Songs of experience

While highly adept at preparing students for professional choral careers, the MSU choral program relies on private and public support to maintain and build quality programming.

Recent gifts and investments, including the purchase of a new harpsichord and portative organ, have created increased opportunities for the performance of 17th- and 18th- century music. The renovation of Fairchild Theatre also represents a major change for the program, providing a home for choral performances that once took place in campus classrooms, smaller stages, churches, or off-campus venues.

“The dedication of our donors makes such a difference in our ability to nurture and develop the talents our students bring to MSU,” says Snow. “We’re eternally grateful to their devotion for helping us build a strong choral community and for their support of the choral profession.”

College of Music Dean James Forger says the prominence of the choral faculty, success of alumni, and the ability to attract and retain talented students continues to make MSU a standout in the world of choral music.

“David Rayl, Sandra Snow, and Jonathan Reed are a powerful team of leaders who have developed an extraordinary graduate-level choral program,” says Forger.  “Their talent and mentoring helps rocket their graduates on to professional careers.”

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