“OK everybody, silence for 15 seconds — now, what tune is running through your head?”
Although it may seem like an unusual question for a professor to ask, Dr. Scott McCoy, the teacher of Voice Science, knows that it is a valuable lesson — music is always on the brains of the students at Westminster Choir College (WCC). For Katie Matheson, a junior voice performance major, this is the truth (the tune “Frere Jacques” was on her mind during those 15 seconds).
Like most juniors and seniors at WCC, Katie lives off campus, and her average day starts with a commute to school for classes, voice lessons and choir practices. However, like most Rider students, she explained that parking is awful, and that there are never enough spaces for all of the students.
Katie’s first class of the day, Music Theory, Musicianship 3, was at 9:10 a.m. in the basement of Talbott Library. The class is surprisingly big, with more than 30 people (the average is 13), and the classroom had both a baby grand piano and a smart board. Dr. Anthony Kosar started off the class with a dictation, where he played a few chords on the piano, and asked the class to write down the notes that they heard. After the dictation, the rest of the class focused on a piece by Beethoven, which explored sonata and rondo forms.
After Music Theory, there was a quick walk to The Playhouse, where Katie’s next practice was, with the Master Singers class, which she was actually not enrolled in. She was invited to sing with this group of 15 students because they didn’t have enough soprano singers. However, since the choir is made up of graduate students, they only invite singers who are very talented. These practices take place every day, and the choir performs every two weeks. The group was preparing for a performance and started off practice with approximately eight minutes of voice warm-ups. These include moving around, as well as singing scales.
When the group began singing, I was startled to realize that they were singing in German. When these students practice, they are not only exercising their vocal chords and learning to sing, they also needed to know how to sing in a different language and make the words recognizable. The graduate students who conducted the class were part of a choir conducting lab.
After Master Singers, Katie took some time out and headed to a computer lab in the Talbott Library where she met up with one of her roommates, looked up pranks for April Fools Day, checked e-mail and relaxed. Usually during this break she has a choir class with 200 students, but it was canceled this week.
Next on her schedule was Voice Science, where the anatomy, physiology and other scientific aspects of singing with the voice are explained. Since they recently took a test, the class started a new section. Again, the class was started with a piece of music. Since Voice Science was held in the relocateable buildings, we were able to hear the classroom next door through the thin walls. This didn’t seem to bother the students that much, which shows that they are probably used to it.
Katie’s last stop of the day was back to The Playhouse for another rehearsal, this time for the Westminster Choir. This choir is an audition ensemble made up of 40 students, with 10 in each section (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). The choir is both a touring and a recording ensemble. It recently recorded a CD that will be released in the fall. The group practiced for the Spoleto Festival, which starts around the second week of May and lasts a month. The rehearsal was important because there was a guest conductor, Elmer Thomas. After warm-ups, the group launched into their singing, accompanied by two pianists.
Katie’s workload was light compared to a few weeks ago when performances were hectic, and she had to go into New York City every day. Although Katie was just catching up on work, her life will get busy again soon: Her job as a cantor at St. John Neuman means that she will be working a lot during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, which has several Holy Days of Obligation for Christians. Katie gets paid for her church job, so the task of singing almost every day next week is less daunting. Even with all of her work piling up, Katie’s time management and plans for the future will help her pull through another semester.
Nadine Tester, a junior communication major from the Lawrenceville campus and the opinion editor for The Rider News, shadowed Katie Matheson, a junior voice performance major from the Westminster campus.