The University of Kansas’ top choir is preparing to travel to Greece next week for a competition and festival where choirs from around the world will share each other’s cultures and love of choral fine arts.
KU Chamber Choir is set to participate in the 40th Preveza International Choir Competition in Preveza, Greece, located on the west side of the country. Youth, college and adult choirs from Greece, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Israel and more will join to fill the streets of the city with their presence and their voices.
When Eduardo García-Novelli, KU’s director of choral studies and the Chamber Choir conductor, was hired a few years ago, he was adamant about giving his students international experiences as often as possible, he said.
“I believe it brings the chance for everybody to grow in all plausible aspects — human aspects, number one, and professional aspects, number two,” García-Novelli said. “I also believe in putting the bar high, so you establish a goal to work for and ask people to actually jump as high as they can, and when you do that, you actually get surprised that people do it simply because you aim high.”
The Chamber Choir, which is the university’s flagship vocal ensemble, is a large, audition-based group with members from all grade levels and several majors.
Choir members have been working with music in languages besides English, including Estonian, Latvian, Latin and more, which must all be memorized. That’s not an easy task, García-Novelli said.
“We have about 35 minutes of music, but it’s gonna be all completely memorized, which is very complicated,” García-Novelli said. “We’re singing in several languages, so it’s tricky to memorize everything.”
To refine that memorized music before heading to Greece next week, the choir is meeting for rehearsals Thursday through Monday, putting in long hours of work each day. García-Novelli said he’s excited to be bringing in his colleague from Chicago, who during Saturday’s rehearsal will guide the choir through interpreting the text and polishing their movements and staging.
The 40-member choir traveling to Greece plans to enter into two categories of the competition: the mixed choir category and the free category. The free category only has the requirement of performance time — between 15 and 20 minutes of uninterrupted music — the mixed choir category has specific requirements and restrictions, such as performing sacred music inside of a church and including songs from four historical eras. Those four selections must be from the Renaissance period, from the Romantic period, from the first part of the 20th century, and by a living composer.
An international panel will judge the competition using scoring categories, such as intonation, interpretation and more. García-Novelli said he has implored his students to focus on themselves rather than their competition and to soak up every moment in Greece.
“If you go to competitions it’s because you want to win, but the truth is that you don’t know who’s going to be there,” García-Novelli said. “All you can do is present yourself in the best possible light, and say to yourself and to everybody, ‘This is who I am today. This is the best I can do today, and I hope you like it.’ And I think that whatever you have that goal in mind, it’s a healthy goal, because you’re gonna be a winner no matter what.”
Incoming senior Elizabeth Webster is eagerly awaiting her first visit to Greece, which will also be her first time traveling outside of the country.
“This competition is essentially a festival for choirs to compete and to have the opportunity to share the love of the arts and to share the abilities and skill sets that choirs from around the world have,” said Webster, who sings the first soprano vocal part in the Chamber Choir.
“I’m also looking forward to being able to explore a new environment with the people that I’ve made friends with in the choir. I think just in general, we have a very good community in the choir. A lot of us are pretty close friends, and we just enjoy each other’s company.”
As part of the festival aspect of Preveza International Choir Competition, the Chamber Choir has been asked to also perform more music at informal community events around the town. García-Novelli said those performances will feel more lively and allow the choir to engage with audiences more, as opposed to competition performances.
After five nights in Preveza for the competition, the choir will travel to Athens and perform in a major concert at Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite while staying in the city for a few days. There will be ample opportunities for sightseeing as the choir will do smaller performances around town, such as one on an island and in an old Greek temple, García-Novelli said.
The Chamber Choir will be in Greece for 10 days from July 4-14, with the competition scheduled for July 6-9. With funding from the university and support from private donors, the trip ended up being decently affordable for students attending to cover their portion of expenses, García-Novelli said.
Two preview performances in Lawrence will be free and open to the public as part of the choir’s preparation. The first is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 30 at Bales Organ Recital Hall inside Lied Center of Kansas, 1600 Stewart Drive. The second, which will also serve as a community sendoff for the group, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 3 at St. Lawrence Catholic Center, 1631 Crescent Road.