The Willamette Chamber Choir and Willamette Singers, overseenby Director of Choral Activities Dr. Wallace Long, recently returned from its annual winter tour with the Willamette Singers.
Together, the two groups performed throughout the region over the course of a seven day tour from Jan. 11 to 19. Starting with a kick-off concert in Willamette’s Hudson Hall, the tour then continued on to 10 more venues, closing with a concert at the Oregon Music Educators Association State Conference in Eugene. Dr. Long and the ensemble collaborated in order to successfully carry on the choir tour tradition, and put in countless hours of work for concerts aimed at entertaining audiences as well as recruiting future Willamette choir participants.
Dr. Long, who has been with the Willamette University music department since 1983, has organized and managed the tour for all 37 years he’s worked on campus; this year’s tour was his last one before he retires at the end of spring semester. He contacts all of the hosts, figures out the logistics of lodging, student and equipment transportation and conducts all of the concerts. His wife, Garnet, assists by arranging the meals for everyone on the trip, ensuring that the various dietary restrictions of choir members are accounted for.
Due to the immensity of planning needed to properly prepare for the tour, work began at the start of last semester. The music performed was selected by Dr. Long from the set lists for the Chamber Choir’s two fall concerts, Family Weekend and Christmas in Hudson.
Dr. Long explained, “The difficult thing about touring is you only have a set amount of time to perform. I had to pick and choose songs from our fall events, keeping in mind what music I thought my students wouldn’t be mad about singing 10 or 11 times.”
Each tour concert opened with the Willamette Singers, followed by sets from local high school choirs and then closed with a Chamber Choir performance. This year, the choir performed “Ave Maris Stella” by Mark Thomas and “Sanctus” by Frank Martin, among other songs.
Senior Olga Melendez Valdes, the Chamber Choir’s president and a vocal performance and politics double major, plays an important role in class and on tour.
She said, “My job is to be the master delegator, making sure everyone has the resources and support they need in the ensemble in the sense of both music and life, while maintaining transparency and efficiency.” This includes acting as the tour director by managing the set up and tear down for performances and starting voice warm ups.
The 2020 winter tour was particularly special and meaningful for Dr. Long, Melendez Valdes and the ensemble because it was Dr. Long’s final tour. Consequently, the choir worked extra hard to make the trip as carefree and fun as possible for Dr. Long by supporting one another, according to Melendez Valdes.
She also noted that the tour itself was a vocally taxing and stressful experience; however, it served as a powerful opportunity to grow, too.
“The tour wasn’t a vacation, but recruitment work for Willamette—that’s why we go to regional areas and high schools with good choral programs. If you have the right people who care, like I do, you’ll have this amazing group, which builds a sense of teamwork and respect for leadership,” Dr. Long said.
Melendez Valdes agreed, emphasizing that the tour’s goal was to not only touch and inspire people through music, but also to encourage future and current musicians to pursue their passions. Additionally, the tour served as a fun bonding experience for the choir, which involved watching movies like “School of Rock” and “Mamma Mia!” on the bus and exploring malls in Bend and Eugene during downtime.
Although the tour was bittersweet for Dr. Long, who had to “walk a tightrope between letting [his] emotions take over and effectively leading the choir,” he believes that his students were successful in making the trip wonderful for him.
He concluded with a thank you to the University: “Willamette has been very supportive of choral efforts and touring. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to the admissions folks, who’ve always understood our mission of recruitment. It’s been a good run.”