Kevin Ford had a wonderful problem.
Ford, director of choral activities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, watched as student after student signed up over the past few months to be part of the school’s Chamber Singers.
In fall semester 2021, the choral group—which has performed a wide variety of music on American and European tours—had 22 members. Heading into fall semester 2022, there are about 40, the group’s largest number ever.
For Ford, that meant solving some serious musical equations. X number of female altos and sopranos meant X number of male tenors and basses must be in the chorus to prevent one from drowning out the others, he explained.
“You try to figure out where they’ll best fit with the group,” he said. “When I’m auditioning for the Chamber Singers, I listen to the quality of voice with the idea of ‘How’s this going to blend with the other voices that are already in there?’”
Ford said that with three freshmen orientation sessions still on the way, the Chamber Singers probably would rise in size even more.
“I am still holding auditions for a few spots to solidify the balance,” he said.
Brooke Harwell, a junior majoring in music therapy, has been a member of the Chamber Singers since her freshman year. For her, more members means more possibilities, she said.
“With the introduction of more students in Chamber Singers, I think it will create a nice, balanced tone that every choir strives for and—with more voices—you will definitely have a fuller, richer sound as well.”
Ford said the rise in student members is due to a number of reasons, including a response to the screeching halt due to the COVID pandemic, when the number of Chamber Singers dropped to 16.
“I think we all realized what we lost during COVID, and one thing that we definitely lost was singing because it was listed as one of the most risky things you could do,” Ford said. “If you take a breath deeply, you’re opening up the bronchial sacs, where all the virus lives.”
Simply wanting to sing again is a key piece of the rising interest in being part of the Chamber Singers, he said.
“The students have talked about this. They just really missed singing and they want to get back to it,” Ford said.
Like everyone else on campus during the pandemic, members of the Chamber Singers were required to wear face masks, even when performing. They wore specially made masks that made breathing easier.
“Even when we had to sing with masks, at least we were together in the same room singing,” Harwell said. “It’s wonderful to just be able to make music with others again.”
Ford said the increase in Chamber Singers members also can be attributed to the number and types of scholarships now available, including the new Guthrie Men’s Quartet Scholarship, which offers $10,000 per year to four students who are not required to be music majors.
“It generated visibility and buzz around the idea of singing again post-COVID,” he said. “If they looked at this scholarship and they weren’t thinking about singing then, all of a sudden, they thought—and this is just my guess—‘OK, well maybe singing is something that I could keep doing.’”
Ford said the Department of Music also offers other scholarships to entice prospective singers.