June 1, 2017
Rick Bjella, director of Choral Studies, and David Becker, director of Orchestral Studies, look back at their time in Lubbock.
When Kameryn Mattingly enrolled at Texas Tech University and joined the University Choir, she had no idea her sophomore year would include performing in New York City. But that’s exactly where she and more than 100 other students and faculty members from the J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts (TCVPA) were last weekend, performing a Memorial Day concert for a full house in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.
“It was an honor,” said Mattingly, a music education major from The Woodlands. “To think that all of our hard work was for this moment – it was very special to be there.”
Members of the University Choir, the Women’s Chorale and the Matador Singers, and musicians with the University Chamber Orchestra were invited by Manhattan Concert Productions founder and artistic director Craig Arnold to perform Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem” during the Memorial Day concert. Accompanying the Texas Tech School of Music performers were 24 students from Abilene Christian University (ACU) under the direction of Jeffrey Goolsby, a Texas Tech musical arts choral conducting doctoral student who serves as director of choral studies at ACU.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to perform at Lincoln Center,” said Henrik Zetterstrom, a music education and vocal performance major from Flower Mound. “It’s amazing to know people perform in that venue every week and here we are, doing it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
TCVPA faculty members also participated in the concert. Gerald Dolter, professor of voice and director of Texas Tech Opera Theatre, and Rebecca Wascoe Hayes, assistant professor of voice, each performed as soloists. Karl Dent, professor of voice, and Carolyn Cruse, associate director of choral studies and associate professor of music education, sang in the choir. John Hollins, associate professor of voice, served as organist, and harp instructor Rachel Mazzucco served as harpist.
The concert allowed the performers to represent Texas Tech and showcase their talents in one of the most populous cities in the world. Several members of the Texas Tech community traveled to New York to show their support, including Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert Duncan and his wife, Terri; Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec and his wife, Patty; and School of Music director William Ballenger, who was joined by his wife, Cathy.
TCVPA Dean Noel Zahler, who attended the performance with his wife, Clara, said it was a transformational experience for everyone involved.
“The Texas Tech University Choir and Chamber Orchestra gave a stunning performance at New York City's Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. It was a packed house,” said Zahler. “Professors Richard Bjella and David Becker were responsible for the quality of the performance, but after experiencing what it’s like to concertize at such a venue, our students will continue to grow and achieve ever higher standards in the future.”
The Memorial Day concert was the final performance for Bjella, choir director, and Becker, orchestra director, as part of the School of Music. Both directors retired from the university this spring, adding a sentimental element to the trip.
“During the last movement Wednesday night at Alice Tully Hall, all I could think was this was probably the last time I would be directed by Professor Bjella,” Mattingly said. “We all got backstage and there were tears. It was very emotional for sure.”
Zetterstrom said some of that emotion came from Bjella’s explanation of Brahms’ music and being in New York during Memorial Day weekend. The piece was completed in May 1868, the same month the holiday now known as Memorial Day was established as a commemoration of those killed in the Civil War. Between rehearsals and performances, the students were able to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and experience Fleet Week New York, an annual celebration of sea services of the military.
“The fact that the piece was completed then was really amazing and beautiful and made this performance that much more meaningful,” Zetterstrom said. “It was almost as if we were performing it in memoriam of everyone who has lost their lives in service. To me, it was kind of a requiem of fallen heroes.”
The trip also included a Sunday performance by the choir as the featured ensemble at a vespers service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Mattingly and Zetterstrom said the service was just as emotional, but for a slightly different reason – the group performed some of their favorite music from the past school year.
“It was set up around jazz music, which was quite interesting for a church service,” Mattingly said. “We’d been practicing since September and performed ‘Unclouded Day.’ It talks about a place where your friends have gone. It was particularly special to Professor Bjella.”
Marc Sutton, a trumpet player in the orchestra and a musical arts doctoral student and teaching assistant from Duncan, Oklahoma, performed “The Trumpet Sounds Within-a My Soul” during the vespers service.
“It was great; the acoustics in the church were exceptional,” Sutton said. “I only played on the first piece, but I was fortunate enough to sit back and listen to our choir sing their next two they sounded fantastic.”
Zetterstrom said of all the trips he’s taken with the choir, this was the most special for him.
“Professor Bjella is one of my favorite people.” Zetterstrom said. “I look up to him, and he has changed my life. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to work with him for two years, but in those two years, I’ve changed so much as a person and as a musician, solely because of him. I’m never going to forget those two years – they’re probably the best of my life because of him.”
Sutton said he also enjoyed working with both directors during his time at Texas Tech.
“Professor Becker shakes everyone’s hand after every performance, and in rehearsal, you can see how devoted he is and how much he loves music, and it inspires you to perform at your very best,” Sutton said. “Both directors are so kind and so committed to their art.”
He said he was glad to have been a part of their final performances with Texas Tech.
“To see them one last time and see their faces as that last chord rang out,” Sutton said, “I realized, it’s finally done and what a ride it’s been.”
The group exceeded the expectations of everyone involved, Zetterstrom added.
“It was the best performance we’ve had all year and for me, it was a culmination of all the work I did in high school and all the work I’ve done with Professor Bjella the past two years,” Zetterstrom said. “We really just nailed it and there was no better opportunity for us to get Texas Tech’s name out there. It’s amazing that this school out in the middle of West Texas had the chance to show off in one of the world’s best performance venues.”
The experience also pushed him to work that much harder in the future, he said.
“Because I know I had this opportunity, it gave me an even larger amount of determination for my future success,” Zetterstrom said. “What was really special to me was the thought that with enough hard work, determination and dedication, we could be in the position one day to be performing in Alice Tully Hall or another of the world’s most popular venues every week. It’s going to help me reach that goal. It was just amazing.”
A complete recap of the Texas Tech Chorale and Orchestra performances in St. Peter’s Lutheran Jazz Vespers Service and Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center in New York City. Photos>>
The J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech offers a diverse array of programs and courses in art, music, theatre and dance.
The college seeks to prepare students who will be leaders in the profession by employing the highest standards in performance, teaching, research, and artistic and creative vision.
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