Trinity choir alumni join current students for the first Alumni Choir Festival
by Abby DeNike '20 and Molly Mohr Bruni
More than 120 Trinity choir alumni, spanning seven decades and traveling from 22 different states, were welcomed by the University for the Alumni Choir Festival this past weekend, Feb. 22-23. Alongside 50 current choir students, the combined choir was more than 150 voices strong: a tribute to celebrating this anniversary year.
“As one of the oldest and largest organizations at Trinity, the choir program lies at the heart of the University,” says Gary Seighman, music professor and director of choral activities. “It has shaped, and been shaped by, thousands of students since the institution’s earliest years. So it seems fitting as the University celebrates its 150th anniversary, that we would recognize how we are part of this history.”
“Choral music is our largest activity—we have more singers than football players!—and our singers come from all over the University, so choir is a great integrative liberal arts experience for so many students,” adds Rich Butler, Professor Emeritus of economics and alumni engagement coordinator for Alumni Relations and Development. “So, it seemed to me that a real choir reunion might be a powerful alumni engagement experience—if it had substance.”
So Seighman and Butler collaborated to put together a weekend of music-making and fellowship. The festival was sponsored in part by the Dickson-Allen Foundation, Steinway Piano Gallery of San Antonio, and Trinity’s 150th Anniversary Committee. Seighman explained that the festival offered an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with longtime friends and re-energize their passion for music, adding that “there is something about group singing that powerfully connects people on a number of levels.” Seighman designed the festival with the intention of maximizing interactions between alumni and current students. He felt it was “important for our current students to know that they belong to a tradition that extends well beyond their experience.”
The weekend began on Friday evening with Trinity’s spring choir concert, featuring all current student ensembles in Parker Chapel. Then on Saturday morning, 83 alumni and guests gathered at breakfast to celebrate former choir director Claude Zetty. Claude was the choir director at Trinity from 1961-79 and is remembered for his musicality and his kind, yet firm, instruction style. His daughter, Erika Zetty ’77, was the guest speaker.
Erika, after giving a tribute to her father, opened up the floor for the alumni to share how they were personally inspired by him. Quite a few former students told stories of how Claude had introduced them to singing for the first time by encouraging them to audition for the choir. Many of them are still performing today.
“It was tremendous to reconnect with many alumni who shared the common thread of my father,” Erika says. “It was one of the happiest days of my life.” Erika Zetty did add that some people looked quite different then they did when she was herself a Trinity choir student. “It was the ’70s—everyone had long hair.”
After the breakfast, alumni rehearsed together in preparation for that afternoon’s concert. They then enjoyed lunch, which was accompanied by performances of the Trinitones and AcaBellas, Trinity’s student-run a cappella groups, and followed with an open mic. A pianist accompanied the alumni on their favorite jazz, folk, and musical theater tunes. The Trinitones even invited some of their own alumni to sing with them.
“Having just graduated last year, it was really cool to bridge the gap between the current members (most of whom I sang with last year) and the alumni that I sang with several years ago,” says Reese Murphy ’18. “Being a member of the Trinitones was truly one of my favorite experiences at Trinity, and singing with them again felt like home.”
Current students and alumni came together for another rehearsal before performing at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, for a combined choir performance with guest faculty musicians in Parker Chapel.
“When everyone came together, it felt much like a big family reunion, all working in a very specific and indescribable way to make the choir sound like we had been working together for months,” says Kendall Walshak ’19. “There's a level of quality that has been instilled in each member who comes through this choir program, and when we all come together, it is made really clear that they stick with you for a long time."
Some of the members had a connection through more than just choir, though—for the Gaedkes, singing is a family affair. Both father (Paul Gaedke ’90) and son (Griffin Gaedke ’20) not only attended Trinity, but also sang. That concert didn’t mark the first time the men had sang together, but it definitely felt more special, says Griffin.
“In a way it seemed familiar because I sing with my father all the time at church,” Griffin explains. “But at the same time it seemed different because of the connection we had through Trinity. It made me appreciate all the hard work that my father put into his time at Trinity and the music department when he was a student.”
After the concert, Trinity President Danny Anderson spoke at the special dinner reception in the Great Hall for more than 170 Trinity choir alumni and their families. The dinner capped off a weekend that Paul Gaedke says was much more than a reunion:
“When you sing, the whole of your being is involved. Your brain, your body, your emotions—every bit of yourself. Regardless of whether one believes in a higher power, when gathered to sing, this is what happens: you join with others in giving fully of yourselves, heart, soul, and strength for a singular cause—in this instance, the cause of creating something beautiful. When this occurs, there emerges a sense of community and oneness that can only truly be understood by those participating. And that is exactly what occurred this weekend.”