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‘As wonky as possible’: Rice Chorale finds joy in music

Photo courtesy Pippa Jarvis

By Shreya Challa     11/8/22 11:53pm

Every Monday and Wednesday, music director Tom Jaber shepherds the Rice Chorale, a group of students plucked from various majors and years, into a practice room to sing choir music. Currently, the chorus is preparing for their upcoming show on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Edythe Bates Old Organ Hall at the Shepherd School of Music. This is Jaber’s 35th year as a professor and director of choral music at the Shepherd School of Music. Throughout the years, he has led the Chorale through multiple changes in the voice department and revived the group after disbanding during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Though the Chorale is a required course for certain undergraduate students at Shepherd, Jaber said that it is open to people of all skill levels, and auditions aren’t required to join. Save for the semesters during the pandemic, the course has been offered every semester for one credit hour.

“I hear from prospective students who are not going to be music majors, but they want to continue singing,” Jaber said. “The most important trait they can have is just a desire to want to be there, to find some sort of joy and fulfillment out of singing beautiful music.” 

Taylor Stowers, one of Chorale’s members, said that participating in the Chorale is her way of staying in touch with different types of music without taking on a large commitment. She said that though she majors in psychology, she is passionate about singing. 

“There are not as many musical opportunities made for non-music majors in any significant way,” Stowers, a Duncan College sophomore, said. “This is by far one of the easiest and most fun opportunities to continue to be involved in music … Being able to keep up my technique and sing in a group like I did in high school, it’s nostalgic, and it’s fun.”

Chorale also includes other members of the Rice community, including professors, staff and alumni. Marce Stayer, a Rice alumna, is one such member of Chorale. Stayer said that being a part of the choir is a way for her to learn new pieces of music. 

“It’s a way for me to stretch and learn different languages,” Stayer said. “I mean, we sing in Latin, we sing in German, we sing in Spanish … I have no idea what I’m singing. I do enjoy learning different composers, learning different types and styles of music.”

Jaber says that because the Chorale brings in a diverse group of people, it resembles a microcosm of the university.

“I think that the Rice Chorale sort of looks like the face of the university,” Jaber said. “We are certainly diverse within the schools and the various departments and age groups and all of that. We’re about as wonky as possible. I love it that way.” 

Stayer said that one of the reasons she is still involved in the Chorale is because she likes to meet new people and still feel involved in the Rice community. 

 “I’m not a superstar singer by any stretch, but I fit in pretty well with a group,” Stayer said. “One of my favorite things is watching the way the kids grow throughout their years. I see them come in as freshmen and really blossom. It’s just such a joy to listen to them.” 

Hanna Frampton, a vocal performance student at Shepherd who is in Chorale for the second semester, emphasized Jaber’s love for the group. 

“I feel like Chorale is his Shepherd baby — he’s had it since he first came to Shepherd … It’s joy-filled,” Frampton said. “He does everything because he loves it. He cracks jokes all the time, and he demands the best from us, as a good teacher does.”

Jaber has also pushed for the group to have opportunities to showcase their talents. For instance, they performed at President Reginald Desroches’ inauguration on Oct. 22. Their upcoming performance will include two works by French composer Maurice Duruflé: “Requiem” and “Messe Cum Jubilo.” Jaber, who has been the backbone of the Chorale throughout their challenges, said he hopes that the singers find their experience in the Chorale just as meaningful as he does. 

“It really does speak to me, and I figure if it speaks to me, it has a chance of speaking to them,” Jaber said. “These are the kinds of pieces that bring people comfort in the face of disasters.”  

Frampton echoed Jaber and said that the Chorale is mostly made up of non-music majors.

“It’s just a bunch of people who really love to sing getting together and making some music,” Frampton said. “It feels like there’s a different energy because they’re doing it purely for the joy of making music. It’s not part of a requirement for them, so it’s been really fun.”

Above all, Jaber encourages any interested students to join Chorale, regardless of experience level.

“The Rice Chorale, I tell them every semester, and I mean it sincerely, is my favorite thing that I do at Rice University,” Jaber said.  “I want everybody to know that they’re welcome. If they want to sing, by golly, they’re welcome to come.”

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