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December, 2018

Like to Sing?
CUA's the Place for You

By Catherine Lee


Members of the University Chorus rehearse at Ward Hall.

Physics graduate student Merrill Roberts spends much of his week taking courses at Hannan Hall and doing research at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. But on Tuesday evening he sets physics aside and spends a couple of blissful hours rehearsing with the CUA Town and Gown Community Chorus at Ward Hall.

Alicia Waldt, a senior vocal performance major in opera, is gearing up for her part as a featured soloist at the Town and Gown concert in December, performing a piece by 16th-century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

As music Dean Murry Sidlin likes to says, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is “a singing school” and these days that’s particularly true as Town and Gown and other CUA vocal groups prepare for the upcoming Christmas holiday concerts.

Whether you’re a graduate student in physics or a vocal performance major who aspires to sing at the Met, there are lots of opportunities to warble at CUA, according to Leo Nestor, Justine Bayard Ward Professor of Music and director of choral activities.

“If you have beautiful memories of singing, participation in one of CUA’s ensembles will rekindle that wonderful time in your life,” says Nestor. “Singing is a natural expression of the human experience. One shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the emotions and many of the life events of the 16th century are virtually identical to our own. Our humanity is the link.”


CUA singers perform at the 2005 Christmas Concert for Charity.

                                          2006 Holiday Concerts

The biggest vocal performance this holiday season is the 18th Annual Christmas Concert for Charity, which will be held Friday, Dec. 1, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Sponsored by Catholic University and the Basilica, the concert will feature the CUA Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus, conducted by Professor Leo Nestor.

Works will include carols and Christmas selections by Handel, Kodály, Mozart and Conrad Susa, in addition to original compositions by Nestor and CUA graduate student Roberto Abel Martínez, who has composed a fanfare, “Hodie Christus natus est,” to open the evening. The Basilica Choir, under the direction of Peter Latona, also will perform.

This year’s concert will benefit the Spanish Catholic Center of Catholic Community Services. The center provides medical and dental care as well as social, employment and educational services for nearly 38,000 people, mostly new immigrants, in the D.C. metropolitan area. For more details about the concert, visit 

In addition, the Women’s Chorus, under the direction of Keith Reas, conductor and music school lecturer, will present a concert at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, at St. Vincent’s Chapel. Town and Gown, under the direction of doctoral candidate Kevin O’Brien, will present “A Winter Concert” at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, at St. Vincent’s Chapel.

The Chamber Choir, under Nestor’s direction, will present a Christmas concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, in Northwest Washington.
A Stress Reliever

Like graduate student Roberts, Sister Maria Salerno, O.S.F., associate professor of nursing, finds that singing with Town and Gown is “a great tension reliever. As a faculty member, I’ve got a lot on my plate, but when I get to rehearsal I forget about everything else and just concentrate on the music. It really gets your endorphins going.”

Because Town and Gown is open to all members of the CUA community as well as singers outside the university, Sister Salerno says she’s had the chance to meet folks who hail from different walks of life.

This year, the 30 or so members of Town and Gown include folks from CUA who work in biology, history and politics as well as singers from outside the university, among them a baker, a specialist in heating and air conditioning, a social psychologist and a librarian with the National Library of Medicine.

Town and Gown will be accepting new members in January at the start of the Spring 2007 semester. Interested singers are asked to attend an informal group audition.

Town and Gown director Kevin O’Brien, a doctoral candidate in sacred music, points to “the connectedness of the music-making process” as the reason that people enjoy it.

“This intangible about music-making points back to God,” says O’Brien. “It enables us to share in a different way than having coffee and donuts. It’s one of the highest points of human interaction.”

Several of CUA’s other vocal groups are actually music school courses, but they are also open to non-music majors, faculty and staff.

The 130-member University Chorus, CUA’s largest choral group, counts among its singers at least a couple of architecture majors and several students enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences. The chorus often performs with the CUA Symphony Orchestra, most notably at the annual Christmas Concert for Charity and the President’s Festival of the Arts.

The 27-member CUA Women’s Chorus is composed primarily of freshman women at the music school, who tend to outnumber men there. They join the University Chorus for performances but they also rehearse on their own, allowing them the experience of having their own ensemble. The Women’s Chorus is open to any woman on campus. 

The CUA Town and Gown Community Chorus at a holiday concert last December.
The 35-member CUA Chamber Choir is an ensemble of advanced singers who include politics majors and instrumentalists, freshman through third-year doctoral students. The choir presents concerts on and off campus, sings at the university’s annual Odyssey Day and performs at CUA liturgical services. It is also planning a spring 2007 East Coast tour to recruit students for the music school.

The Commencement Choir, which will mark its third performance in May 2007, is a less formal chorus that meets to rehearse several times at the end of the academic year to provide music for the annual Baccalaureate Mass. The choir is open to any graduating student.

In 2003, a group of music majors started another CUA chorale: Redline a Cappella. Composed almost entirely of music majors, the 16-member undergraduate group performs pop, jazz and traditional a cappella numbers. Last year, the ensemble recorded its first CD, “Redline on Track,” and in April it performed at the White House.

And now there’s talk at the music school of creating one more vocal ensemble: a student-run men’s chorus. This type of group is growing in popularity nationwide, says Nestor. Perhaps it’s the next chapter and verse for “the singing school.”

For more information about CUA’s vocal groups and how to participate in them, contact Dominic Traino at the music school at 202-319-5414 or by e-mail:


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Last Revised 30-Oct-06 04:15 PM.