Category Archives: Choral Department

Spring Arts Events Kick off End of School Year

May is Arts Month at Williston, and it’s been busy! Over the past few weeks we’ve featured our sold-out Spring Musical, In the Heights (see photos at our Flickr page) and our Spring Instrumental Concert (photos coming soon!). As the year comes to a close, several more fantastic student performances are coming right up, so mark your calendars! 

  • Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21: Spring Dance Concert, “Music Made Visible,” Williston Theatre, 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 24: Spring Choral Concert, “Songs of Love and Betrayal,” Phillips Stevens Chapel, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 25: Williston Scholars Artists Reception, Grubbs Gallery, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 26: Eight Grade Art Show and Shakespeare Performance, Williston Theatre, 6 p.m.

Roomful of Teeth to Visit Williston

The Grammy award-winning ensemble will teach techniques and perform from their diverse repertoire
Photo by Bonica Ayala of Bonica Ayala Photography, courtesy of Roomful of Teeth
Photo by Bonica Ayala of Bonica Ayala Photography, courtesy of Roomful of Teeth

Members of a Grammy award-winning ensemble will bring their unique sound to the Williston Northampton campus on October 20 as part of an hour-long workshop with the school’s choral ensembles.

Roomful of Teeth will teach the Caterwaulers and Widdigers new techniques, talk about their process, and perform a private concert for the students.

“I’m hoping the students’ idea of a choir or vocal ensemble can be expanded in a way they’ve never thought about,” Director of Choirs Joshua Harper wrote in an email about the visit. “This ensemble defies every genre line for singing, and what they do is very groundbreaking and very fresh.”

Roomful of Teeth is an eight-voice ensemble that was founded in 2009 and incorporates singing traditions and techniques from around the world. In their biography, they note that their repertoire includes such styles as Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani, Persian classical, Inuit throat singing, and Korean P’ansori.

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Joshua Harper at Yale Summer School

What do teachers do over the summer? If you’re Director of Choirs Joshua Harper, you sing—and conduct, and learn from a world-renowned professor—all through Williston Northampton professional development funds. This week, Mr. Harper reports that he’s embarking on an exciting professional development opportunity at the Yale Summer School Festival at Norfolk.

Mr. Harper will be attending the Chamber Choir and Conducting Workshop from August 16-22 and will be studying with Professor Emeritus of Conducting Simon Carrington (founding member of The King’s Singers, an acclaimed ensemble from Kings College, Cambridge University). Mr. Harper received an Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship and professional development funds for tuition to the program.

According to the program’s website, the workshop is “divided into coaching, master classes, rehearsals and seminars for advanced singers and choral conductors. Repertoire ranges from the Renaissance to the 21st century and includes both choral and instrumental music.” At the end of the week, the Fellows of the Workshop hold a concert in the Music Shed in Norfolk, CT.

In February, Mr. Harper’s edition of Schubert were presented at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) national conference and his a cappella edition of “Die Einsiedelei” was published by Colla Voce LLC. As the high school chair for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association, Mr. Harper said that one of his goals was to make classical music more accessible to high school students and conductors.

Frostiana: A Legacy at Williston

Manuscripts are important. Manuscripts are valuable. From Shakespeare’s Folios to The Gutenberg Bible, there is nothing quite like the first printing, or an author’s manuscript copy. These originals give scholars and researchers further insight into an author or artist’s intent, among other benefits. Manuscripts are important.

Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana” was premiered at Amherst Regional High School in 1959. I gave a background on the piece’s history in my previous blog, and if you do not know the history of this piece and it’s relation to the Pioneer Valley, I invite you to check it out. Conductors usually have a lengthy bucket list of pieces they want to conduct in their life time, and the sad part is, there’s so much music that we may never finish crossing off our list of pieces. All seven movements of “Frostiana” have long been on my personal bucket list. Last summer when I was deciding on the choruses’ repertoire for the year, I realized that there was no better time to study and conduct these pieces than while I was living right here in the Valley! I hoped that, being in such a prime location, perhaps there could be some other connections that might arise with the piece and the area’s history.

Little did I know what I would stumble upon!

At lunch one day in the Birch Dining Commons, I was having a conversation with Williston’s Archivist and Librarian, Rick Teller. I mentioned to Rick that we were working on Frostiana, and would be performing it in its entirety with orchestra in May. Richard Gregory, long time conductr of the Caterwaulers would frequently program the two men’s chorus movements, as well as performed on their European Tour in 1968. Also in our conversation,  Rick casually let slip that his father also had sung in the premier of the piece.

As in, the first time it was ever performed, in Amherst, in 1959.

This, of course, got me asking questions about his knowledge of the piece and its history. At the end of our discussion, Rick mentioned that he still had his father’s score that he used in the premier performance. Not only that, but it was signed by the composer, Randall Thompson, and the Amherst poet, himself, Robert Frost. I eagerly requested if he could find it and bring it into our classes to share with our students this extremely exciting score.

Frostiana Score 1 Frostiana Score 2 Frostiana Score 3

Henry Teller’s score is a copy of Randall Thompson’s manuscript, and has markings and scribbles that Teller (whom Teller Chorus is named after) wrote into the score during rehearsals. In the score, you can find wrong notes, misspelled words–all the common errors that pop up in a first draft. As a conductor, it is thrilling to compare this first score with my current modern day score. This is why manuscripts are so important!

The Williston Northampton School enjoys a rich history here in this valley. I had no idea something as cool as Henry Teller’s premier performance score would become available to our students and myself when I selected to do this piece, but I am all the more thankful I decided to program it more so now than I had been before.

I hope you will join us on Tuesday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m. In the Phillips Stevens Chapel on campus as we continue Frostiana’s legacy here at Williston Northampton.

Archivist Rick Teller shows The Widdigers Female Concert Choir his father's score used at the premier of "Frostiana".
Archivist Rick Teller shows The Widdigers Female Concert Choir his father’s score used at the premier of “Frostiana”.

Music of the Valley: Frostiana at Williston

It has been a terrific year for the Choral Music program at Williston this year. This past fall, the Caterwaulers, Widdigers, Teller Chorus, and Middle School Chorus explored a program of choral music focusing on famous poets and their texts by a mélange of composers. This spring, the Upper School Choral Ensembles are continuing this exploration in poetry, but this time, focusing on one single poet and one single composer.

“Frostiana: Seven Country Songs” was written by American composer Randall Thompson in 1959. This choral/orchestral masterwork has held a seminal position in the choral/orchestral repertoire ever since its premier, and selected movements are performed frequently as stand-alone pieces.Frostiana It is written in seven movements, or sections, with each one utilizing a different text from the great American poet, Robert Frost (hence the title of the piece). Well-known poems such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “The Road Not Taken,” “The Pasture,” and “Come In” are just a few of the stunning texts featured in the work.

In non-musical years here at Williston, the Music Department has a long history of exploring music from the choral/orchestral repertoire. When I was considering last summer what this piece might be, there were several reasons Frostiana was the clear choice. First, Frostiana is scored for Male Chorus, Female Chorus, Mixed (Male and Female) Chorus, and orchestra. This was perfect for Williston, as we already had all three choruses in place. The second biggest reason was that Frostiana was commissioned by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts for its bicentennial in 1959. This is one of the reasons Thompson chose to set Frost’s text; Frost had lived in Amherst for a period of his life. Lastly, Frost’s poems are some of the most beloved across the world. However, Frost, as well as his estate since his death, rarely gave permission for his texts to be set to music. However, Frost had the utmost respect for Thompson, and therefore trusted him with his stunning words. Since the focus of the Choral Program this year has been on poetry, this was a great chance to focus on one of America’s most beloved poets.

The Williston String Ensemble, directed by Mr. Ben Demerath and coached by Mr. Scott Slapin, has been working with the students on their preparations for the piece. Joining these students to round out the orchestra will be area professional musicians and other Williston faculty members.

The students have been working extremely hard this trimester, not only learning the music, but also spending time digging into the texts, and how these poems relate to us today in the 21st century. It has been an amazing journey, that is sure to culminate in a great night of music on the Williston campus. The first half of the concert will feature the Middle School Chorus singing repertoire in other celebrated American styles, followed by new a cappella arrangements by the Caterwaulers and Widdigers, showcasing a more current sound in American vocal styles. I hope you will be able to join us for this very special performance of some of the best music America has to offer.

Frostiana: Seven Country Songs
May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Phillips Stevens Chapel
Joshua Harper, conductor

Featuring the Caterwaulers Male Concert Choir, Widdigers Female Concert Choir, Middle School Chorus, and the Williston String Ensemble.

Facebook even with more details can be found by clicking here.


A Lesson In Beatboxing

S#arp Attitude's Melinda Packer Brings the Beat to Williston
Photo by Dennis Crommett
Photo by Dennis Crommett

The world of collegiate a cappella has been heating up the past few years. With the rise of shows like the The Sing Off, success of movies such as Pitch Perfect (a sequel is due next spring), or the popularity of a cappella groups like Pentatonix, there’s never been a better time for the world of a cappella.

Here in the second trimester at Williston, both the Caterwaulers and Widdigers have been taking a bit of a break from classical repertoire to focus on choral pop and our own student-led a cappella arrangements.

Although I have a lot of experience composing and arranging music, there’s one very important aspect of good a cappella that I do not have as much experience in:


This is where Melinda Packer comes in. Melinda is the founder of S#arp Attitude, an all-female a cappella group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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Choral Music At The Collegiate Level

A Williston+ Field Trip

Recently, members of the Widdigers Female Concert Choir and Caterwaulers Male Concert Choir had the opportunity to take a field trip to UMass Amherst, the largest campus involved in the Five College Consortium in the Pioneer Valley. While at UMass, the singers participated in a 100-minute rehearsal with the UMass Chamber Choir, the top auditioned choir in the UMass Choral Program. photo1Singing at the collegiate level is an experience that one never regrets or forgets. I, Joshua Harper, Choir Director here at Williston, know this for a fact. We have so many opportunities to make music at Williston, but seeing and hearing it done at the collegiate level is just something that I cannot offer the students on our campus. So I took them off.

The day began with all 33 of the students involved in the two auditioned choral ensembles warming up with the members of the Chamber Choir, led by Dr. Tony Thornton, Director of Choral Activities at UMass. These warm-ups not only got the choirs ready to sing, but instantly provided a segue into advanced vocal techniques typically taught at the collegiate level. photo2Following the warm-up, Dr. Thornton spent time with the singers working on a few pieces from Teller Chorus, which both the Caterwaulers and Widdigers participate in. While working on these pieces, Williston Northampton students sat in between members of the Chamber Choir (comprised of undergraduate and graduate students from degree programs across the campus). Dr. Thornton worked on vowel shaping, dynamic contrast, and text interpretation to better form the pieces that the students were familiar with.photo3 Following this portion of the rehearsal, Dr. Thornton brought the Chamber Choir up on stage and had them perform a few of their pieces for the students. The UMass Chamber Choir is an exceptional ensemble, and were selected to perform this past February at the 2014 Eastern Division American Choral Director’s Association Conference in Baltimore, a very high honor. Hearing the sounds created by simply 32 voices was outstanding, and really exciting to hear in the beautiful acoustics of Bezanson Recital Hall, where the rehearsal took place.

After the performance, Dr. Thornton facilitated a question and answer session. Williston students asked questions regarding time management in college, majoring in something other than music while still singing in an ensemble, and what the audition process for singing at the collegiate level looks like. photo4This was a really great experience for all the students, and members from the Chamber Choir got a chance to share why they do what they do, whether it is majoring in music, or just singing in a choir for the sense of belonging and community that choir can provide.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with Dr. Thornton working with the Widdigers and Caterwaulers on their literature for the upcoming May 20th Concert on campus in the Phillips Stevens Chapel. Dr. Thornton got some really amazing sounds out of each of the groups, and it was neat to watch the students have the opportunity to work with a conductor of Dr. Thornton’s caliber. The field trip wrapped up with a private performance by the UMass Hexichords (of which 3 of the group’s members sing in the Chamber Choir). This top notch collegiate a capella group recently placed 2nd in the ICCA Northeast Semi-Finals. They are ranked #21 in the nation. photo6Their extremely high energy performance was very entertaining, and certainly a neat way to see another singing opportunity afforded to students at the collegiate level.

All in all, it was a really exciting day for the students from Williston Northampton, and provided a boost of energy as the students are learning their repertoire for the upcoming May 20th Concert titled “Earth Song: Music From Across the Globe”. It was a great trip from my vantage point, but also as just a lover of choral music myself. The fact that Williston Northampton is situated so close to the Five College area provides exciting opportunities for our campus and department, and hopefully this will not be the last of the collaborations between our ensembles and some of theirs.

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MASS Singing

2013_11_Harper, Joshua_singing 4Singing by yourself in the shower or car is a pretty wonderful feeling. However, singing with around 250 other people is an even more powerful feeling. Students from Williston Northampton had the opportunity to participate in the Massachusetts American Choral Directors Association (MassACDA) and UMass Amherst High School/Collegiate Choral Festival. This festival puts students from across the state side by side with college musicians from UMass Amherst, both undergraduate and graduate students alike.

2013_11_Harper, Joshua_singing 5Guest conductors Scott Tucker (long time conductor of the Cornell Choral Department) and Lynnel Joy Jenkins (of the Princeton Girl Choir) led an amazing day of rehearsals and the performance in the UMass Fine Arts Center was well attended. Not only did the students get to feel what singing with over 200 voices feels like, but they got to do it with some of the best singers in the state. Below, you can find video from the event, as well as a candid of the students enjoying some pie at Route 9 Diner after the concert.

2013_11_Harper, Joshua_singing 3Williston students who participated in the event were Oliver Demers, Cary Pazmany, Ben Cuca, Sam Duffy, Grace McMeekin, and Sonia Berghoff.

The Williston Northampton Choral Ensembles will have their own concert  coming up on Tuesday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the Phillips Stevens Chapel. Come hear the Middle School Chorus, Caterwaulers, Widdigers, and Teller Chorus put on an amazing concert of their own. We hope to see you there!

2013_11_Harper, Joshua_singing 1

The Answer To Wellness: Singing?

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation in the news regarding exactly what music, singing in particular, can do for the human condition and being. Many of you possibly read an article printed on the CNN Health Site which stated that feeling of connection one experiences while singing “may have a physiological foundation. A small study suggests people who sing together have synchronized heartbeats.” This fantastic article began an even broader conversation, both among musicians and scientists alike, on what the merits of music might truly be.

Let me take a moment to introduce myself: my name is Joshua Harper, a new faculty member in the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Williston. This year, I will be conducting The Caterwaulers, The Widdigers, The Middle School Chorus, and the Teller Chorus. If my course load does not tell you a little something about myself, I will just come right out and say it—I love choir, and I love to sing.

This year, my primary goal is to encourage students not only to use music and singing as an outlet for expression, emotion, and community, but also as another portion of a well-rounded and balanced education and lifestyle. However, with all the media attention on the benefits of singing, and the school’s renewed focus on wellness, I would like to advocate that music can also be a form of keeping one’s self “well”.

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