The UT Chamber Singers have become cultural ambassadors through song.
In 2007, Chamber Singers director Angie Batey took the choral group to New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall.
By chance, their trip coincided with the city’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade. The students immersed themselves in the festivities and sampled a rich variety of food.
While the students were excited about performing in the Big Apple, they were also enthralled by the cultural symphony that played out around them.
That experience sparked an idea for Batey, who wears many hats at UT. She is the James R. Cox University Professor of Music, director of graduate studies for the School of Music, and associate dean for diversity and inclusion for the College of Arts and Sciences.
She began planning international trips that would allow the Chamber Singers to perform in historic venues and experience international culture.
Batey has taken a total of 240 students on performance tours. Along with the New York trip, they visited Ireland in 2012 and England in 2015. They returned to Ireland this past summer, and plans are underway for a trip to Scotland and England in 2021.
Students say the international trips are life-changing. They see things and hear things and eat things that they’ve never even known existed,” Batey said. “It really opens the world to them, and it primes them to be open to more experiences like that.”
While abroad, the Chamber Singers perform public concerts, either free or to benefit a local cause. They also sing in Choral Evensongs (religious services that are one of Batey’s research interests).
Hannah Berkley, a second-year graduate student in choral conducting, went on the England trip her sophomore year and the Ireland trip this past summer.
“Both of those trips were incredible,” said Berkley, who wants to be a high school choir teacher. “Participating in the Evensong tradition made me feel connected to the many singers before us who shared this special service in such sacred places as Westminster Abbey, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and Canterbury Cathedral.
“These trips taught me that we are all one when it comes to music. They allowed me to grow as a musician, friend, and person.”
The School of Music has five curricular ensembles: Chamber Singers, Concert Choir, Men’s Chorale, Women’s Chorale, and UT Singers. Students from any discipline are welcome to participate in a 1-credit hour, yearlong course. Auditions are required, but no one is turned away; every student is assigned to one of the groups.
I don’t believe in putting all of the best singers in one group,” Batey said. “I like to sprinkle music majors and more advanced singers across the ensembles. So a first-time choir member might end up sitting next to someone who aspires to sing with the Metropolitan Opera.”
The Chamber Singers began in the 1977–78 academic year. There are typically 40 students in the group, and it’s not unusual for a number of them to be non-music majors.
The group meets twice a week to work on different genres of choral music, from classical to American folk. They perform three concerts each semester.
Every three years, members can opt to participate in an international performance tour. Those traveling are encouraged to take a course beforehand to learn more about the history and culture of their destination.