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The Duke Chorale's Trip: Carrying A Tune

From Italy to California, New England to Florida, the Duke Chorale travels near and far every spring for a week-long singing tour that many members say is the highlight of the year. This year, the group traveled to England and Wales for five concerts, performing in such historical venues as Salisbury Cathedral and St. Paul's Church.

Chorale members said the tour allowed them to exhibit their talents on a foreign stage, but some noted that support at home is not as great as they would hope.

Junior Heidi Schumacher said the tour is the best time for Chorale members to get to know one another on a deeper basis. "[The tour] is when the group kind of coalesces," Schumacher said.

Second-year graduate student Dave Kowalski agreed, adding that he finally had a chance to sit down with a number of Chorale members he did not know beyond their singing abilities. "You can have two- to three-hour conversations with people that you've talked to but never really talked to," he said.

Both Schumacher and Kowalski said some of the best times were spent sightseeing and having fun with other members outside the concerts, most notably while taking over a pub in Salisbury one evening and making their own talent show. "It was such a neat experience to get out there and do completely different things," Kowalski said.

Senior Maureen O'Dell said she also thought the tour helped the group with its singing abilities. "When you bond, you sing much better together," she said.

During the school year, Chorale practices Tuesday and Thursday nights in Baldwin Auditorium. The group sings everything from 16th century classics to music written by members themselves, making Chorale one of the more diverse singing groups on campus.

Chorale's director, Rodney Wynkoop, who took the position in 1984, said the spirit and motivation of the students he met on a visit to Duke brought him to accept the job. Now, Wynkoop said he sees his students as a part of his family and that he loves to watch as they finally grasp a piece of music. "The depth reaches out and grabs them," he said. "It's a wonderful transformation that goes beyond making wonderful music."

Wynkoop holds auditions every fall and takes approximately 50 to 60 members out of about 90 undergraduate and graduate hopefuls. Even though members are mostly non-music majors, Wynkoop said he believes Chorale produces high-quality music. "Motivation, intelligence and heart... will take you a long way," he said.

Senior Kristen Blackman, Chorale's president, said she has found some of her best friends among the members of the group. "I love to make such beautiful music with them," she said. "[Chorale] has definitely challenged me and helped me grow as a musician."

The one complaint Blackman had was that there are many lectures, social events and meetings on Tuesday or Thursday nights that she has to miss. And some students are not so keen on missing spring break, though O'Dell said trips to the beach on other weekends have made up for it.

Blackman said she considers the spring tours with Chorale a great way to spend the break and noted that she is happy with her overall experience. However, she and many other members said they are disappointed with the lack of support from the student body.

"People just don't know what Chorale is," Blackman said. "If they came once and just could see, then they could make a justified decision."

Wynkoop lamented the fact that Chorale's publicity budget is small and that the group cannot put more advertisements and posters up, though he said he was not sure it would make much of a difference. "People go to things because other people are talking about it, not because they see posters," he said.

Yet the word about Chorale has found its way to interested students who want to audition, despite the lack of large-scale publicity. "I heard about Chorale from posters and from some stuff in the orientation packet," wrote freshman Bob Jones in an e-mail.

Jones auditioned this fall and said he has had a great experience so far. "Rodney Wynkoop is likely the most talented musician I have ever encountered," he wrote. "He is extremely demanding, but he also yields superb results."

And superb results, both on the annual spring break tours and throughout the school year, are what seem to keep most Chorale members together for their time at the University. "I've been waiting for my whole life to be in a professional choir, and it was great to find that at Duke," Schumacher said.

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