John J. Cali School of Music Partners with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

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Published November 14, 2018
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The Montclarion
The Montclair State Chorale Activities and University Singers often collaborate on performances with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Laura Pritchard

Montclair State University sends emails to everyone on campus promoting upcoming events and activities, but students often need to dig a little deeper to find the hidden gems the school has to offer.

Montclair State’s John J. Cali School Of Music has been collaborating with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for 14 years. Dr. Heather J. Buchanan, professor of music and director of Montclair State Choral Activities, recently taught Chorale one of the most famous pieces of music, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9.”

There are two curricular choirs at Montclair State — Chorale, which is a symphonic choir, and University Singers, an elective that students choose to participate in. A symphonic choir has an average of 165 members, while University Singers is a 70-voice choir.

Both of these ensembles collaborate on professional performances with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in their subscription series annually. For the past five years, University Singers have done the “Messiah” with the Orchestra in December, and last year they performed Mozart’s “Requiem.”

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The choir sings with the orchestra to put together a musical piece. Photo courtesy of Laura Pritchard

“We have an ongoing relationship with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra that’s important to us musically and institutionally,” Buchanan said. “We perform ‘Messiah’ annually in December, but we don’t perform with them every semester. When we perform, we negotiate what will work best for their programming and our roster.”

The university’s relationship with the New Jersey Symphony began shortly after Buchanan came to Montclair State in 2003. In 2004, University Singers performed their first prelude concert for a winter festival. In November of that year, the Chorale performed “The Lord Of The Rings Symphony.” In 2006, they performed Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” with the orchestra and since then, they have performed it twice more.

Every orchestra does an official season opening, which is something the resident conductor manages. Xian Zhang was conducting for Montclair State for three performances, two of them at Prudential Hall and one at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Buchanan explained that Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9″ is most famous because it was the first time in the history of Western music that a composer had used voices in a symphony.

“The whole point of Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’ is about freedom and unity,” Buchanan said.

She expressed how it’s about bringing people together.

“The voices of the choir symbolize the voices of millions of people,” Buchanan said. “Beethoven understood that when we are united, our voices are strong and people can collectively push back against the tyranny of the establishment, rules that are oppressive and discrimination in all of its various forms.”

Buchanan asked students if they would give her eight hours of their time for two Sunday nights, four hours each time.

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A conductor leads the orchestra for a performance. Photo courtesy of Laura Pritchard

Music education major Mariana Gomez spoke about the rehearsal process.

“I prepare by listening to the recording tracks posted on Canvas,” Gomez said. “These are provided to us by the teacher, and I practice at home five hours a week and on the go by myself.”

Music education major Edward Zarbetski discussed how being in the chorale prepared him for his performance.

“I might not have been able to sing ‘the Ninth’ if I hadn’t already been in chorale because I wouldn’t be familiar with choral procedures and vocal techniques,” Zarbetski said. “The text was the most difficult musical aspect because you need to convey what you’re singing to the audience; the text is more than just words.”

The Chorale and University Singers are open for students across the campus; students don’t have to be music majors. Nonmusic majors must audition, read music and sing in tune.

“I just got two new members in our flagship choir, University Singers, this semester who are nonmajors,” Buchanan said. “One student is studying animation and the other is an undeclared freshman.”

Buchanan wants to hear from other nonmajors who love to sing.

“There’s got to be students out there who have sung in all-state or county choirs and would love to join our program,” Buchanan said. “If they loved that choral experience, then they would be a good fit for us. We can be their sanity break in the middle of everything else that they are doing.”

Music education major Teresa Toriello spoke about the audition process.

“Getting into Chorale and University Singers, I had to go for an audition my freshman year with Dr. Heather J. Buchanan, which was one-on-one in her office,” Toriello said. “I had to vocalize with her as well as sight-read and sing excerpts from the music we were going to perform that semester.”

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Singers collaborate to deliver choral performances. Photo courtesy of Laura Pritchard

Many of the performances can be seen by students for free, as long as they present a student ID.

There are two upcoming performances planned for December. On Dec. 8, the University Singers, Chorale and Brass Ensembles will perform and on Dec. 16, the University Singers and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral Basillica in Newark, New Jersey.

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