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Decking the presidential halls

University Singers selected to perform at White House

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  • Story by Ryan Gavin
  • Photo by Karen Stockman
  • Published: Nov. 30, 2011
U singers

The University Singers have been selected to sing in a holiday concert at the White House in Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. The most prominent and advanced choral ensemble at Mizzou, the group was formed during the 1945-46 academic year by Paul Van Bodegraven, director of choral activities.

They'll be home for the holidays, but first Mizzou's University Singers will perform at the White House. Director Paul Crabb, accompanist Rachel Aubuchon and 28 members of the choir have been selected to represent Missouri at the nation's capital as part of the White House’s annual series of holiday tours.

Crabb isn't sure why the ensemble initially was contacted about submitting an audition recording for the performance, but he thinks the group's strong reputation helped. In the past three years, the U Singers have performed on some of the biggest stages nationally and internationally.

  • From a blind audition in 2009, the group was selected as one of nine choirs to perform for the National Collegiate Choral Organization at Yale University.
  • In 2010, the ensemble was featured as one of 11 university choirs at the American Choral Directors Association national convention in Chicago.
  • After school let out in the summer of 2010, the singers toured Italy, performing at venues including a church built in the fourth century; the cathedral home to the Shrine of the Three Kings in Milan; and the room of a castle where a painting by Leonardo DaVinci of the composer whose work they were performing hung on the wall (both the composition and the painting were commissioned by the family who owned the castle).

Students' enthusiasm for the Washington, D.C., trip exceeded Crabb's expectations, making the need to trim 30 members from the 58-singer ensemble even more difficult. Taking into account factors such as experience and balance, he whittled down the number to what was mandated by the invitation.

"I wanted to shout from the rooftops when I found out, but I wanted to be respectful that not everyone was able to go, too," Robin Anderson, one of the longest-tenured members of the choir, says. "But it's bragging rights for all of U Singers because this is special and unique. How many other choirs can say they sang at the White House and Europe and all these other places?"

It's not just the choir that will be represented but the MU School of Music as a whole as well. Crabb credits his colleagues for developing the young musicians, which has led to a more musically advanced choir. Performances at events such as the White House concert reflect well on everyone and, more importantly, provide the best possible learning opportunities, he says.

"These are life-changing experiences for our students; I can't think of anything more motivational than to get these types of significant and worthwhile opportunities," Crabb says. "This is what I want to do — to keep providing these kinds of exciting chances to learn and soak up different ideas. We're so proud to have the chance to represent everyone."

In addition to leading the choir, Crabb has joked to his friends that he plans to get into politics while he's in Washington. His idea? The Department for Choral Music.

"You have to sing and work together rather than against each other. You have to have a group of people sympathetic and cooperative and compromising, and you show dignity in the process," Crabb says with a wry smile. "But never mind."

University Singers perform 'Nunc Dimittis' by Arvo Pärt

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012