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Community Spirit Takes UTEP Choral Union to Carnegie Hall

When discussing the UTEP Choral Union’s exciting spring schedule, it’s difficult to avoid repeating a well-known expression: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”

The UTEP Choral Union, pictured here with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra in 2023, is taking their combined talents to Carnegie Hall for a performance set for March 17, 2024.
The UTEP Choral Union, pictured here with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra in 2023, is taking their combined talents to Carnegie Hall for a performance set for March 17, 2024. The Choral Union is comprised of UTEP students, alumni and community members and led by UTEP Director of Choral Activities Elisa Fraser Wilson, D.M.A.

The phrase reflects the excitement and persistence displayed by the Choral Union, comprised of UTEP students, alumni and community members. The group has spent months rehearsing and fundraising in preparation for a performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, one of the most storied concert venues in the United States.

The choir is set to perform on March 17 thanks to an invite from MidAmerica Productions extended to UTEP Director of Choral Activities Elisa Fraser Wilson, D.M.A. The organization brings top musicians in the country to prestigious venues and has previously invited Wilson to conduct in New York. This time, she was able to accept their invite and will be joined by the 64 students and 23 alumni and community members who make up the Choral Union.

“We have folks who just recently graduated, we have some community folks who are veteran singers, and we have folks who have been out 8 to 10 years, so there’s a wide range [participating],” she said.

The choir will be joined by Old Dominion and Regent university choirs along with the New England Symphonic Ensemble in a performance that will feature Francis Poulenc's “Gloria” and Morten Lauridsen's “Lux Aeterna.”

The Choral Union gave El Paso audiences a sneak peek of the repertoire at concerts leading up to the performance, including at First Baptist Church in early February and at Magoffin Auditorium in early March. They performed “Gloria” and “Lux Aeterna” at these venues. 

Since Wilson took the helm of UTEP’s choirs in 2013, their performance schedule has expanded from the traditional concert hall venues to major campus events, El Paso Opera and El Paso Symphony Orchestra performances, as well as UTEP-centered community events such as UTEP Night at the Chihuahuas.

She says that the choir has gradually achieved the participation level and skill set required for a Carnegie Hall performance by achieving what she calls “choirs in community,” engaging in local partnerships and encouraging alumni involvement.

“When I was invited to bring this choir to New York to sing at Carnegie Hall, I thought, ‘What better opportunity to honor those relationships than to open it up, not just to UTEP singers, but also to our alumni,’” she said.

Wilson said that these events are an effective recruiting tool for choirs that are open to the wider campus beyond music majors. “We’re not only collecting student participants for the choirs, including non-majors … we also embrace faculty and staff,” she said. “I think that it is an important part of what we do now, to be so visible.”

Student participants have previously experienced high-profile global exposure through other opportunities. The Department of Music has sent a choir group and four trombone players to a residency at Leeds Cathedral in the United Kingdom since 2015, and they plan to return in October 2024 for the residency’s fifth installment.

One student who has been part of the Leeds Cathedral residency and who will also be performing with the Choral Union at Carnegie is Abeni Merriweather, a graduate student who is earning a master’s degree in music composition and earned her bachelor’s degree in commercial music in 2023.

The Andress High School alumna and aspiring singer-songwriter says the opportunities gained through participating in choirs and collaborating with professional musicians have enriched her undergraduate performing experience. “The music department has a very unique way of giving undergraduate students the opportunity to highlight themselves and be able to travel in a way that you don't really get a lot of in other schools,” she said. 

Merriweather pointed to the community spirit established, which is key to a sustained alumni commitment that sets this choir apart and contributes to its success.

“I’ll always be connected to UTEP and to the UTEP music department, especially with the friendships that I formed here with the students and my classmates,” she said. “And the connections that I have with my professors and my peers, that bond that I have with this department, I really don't see that fraying.” 

You still have time to show your support to the UTEP Choral Union at their Pick-A-Project fundraiser.

Last Updated on March 06, 2024 at 12:00 AM | Originally published March 06, 2024

By MC Staff UTEP Marketing and Communications