Big Four vocal groups are still rock solid

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Southwestern College’s storied vocal music director is not ready to put down the baton just yet, but she has done an admirable job training a quartet of possible replacements.

The SWC Chamber Singers

Dr. Teresa Russell’s protégés were on both sides of the conductor’s podium at the Annual Pop Concert and the maestro’s influence was clear.

The show was spectacular and a testament to Russell’s legacy.

Russell handed over her venerated Concert Choir to former student Sarah Martinez for the stirring “How High Can You Fly?” The young Jaguar-for-Life justified her mentor’s faith and coaxed a rousing performance from the talented men and women in black. The Concert Choir was the pinnacle of the show in Mayan Hall as it has been in Carnegie Hall. Russell, Martinez and company hit all the right notes.

Former Russell student Ernest Quarles gave the audience a taste of opera with his rendition of “Vainement, ma bien-aimee” by the French composer Édouared Lalo.

Earlier in the evening Quarles and the Chamber Singers got the audience in a foot-stomping mood with the percussive Queen anthem “We Will Rock You.”

The SWC Jazz Vocal Ensemble

Not to be outdone, the Tracy Burklund-directed Jazz Vocal Ensemble followed up with a soulful rendition of the Ella Fitzgerald standards “Shiny Stockings” and “Caravan.” Burklund buttered these chestnuts with fresh coats of harmony and power, then warmed them over an autumn fire.

Phillip Lenud and the Gospel Choir nearly burned down the house with “Again I Say Rejoice,” working up a sweat singing and dancing with religious passion.

Southwestern is rich with gifted singers, Quarrels said, which consistently power its stellar vocal groups.

The SWC Gospel Choir

“We have a lot of amazing talent on this campus,” said Quarrels. “Some performers are doing it for fun, but some are vocal music majors and they are using this stage as a stepping stone.”

Burklund agreed. The Pops Concert is designed help the singers get used to all the distractions and complications of performing for a large audience on a lit and wired stage.

“This concert comes up so early in the semester, so they really only have three weeks to prepare for it,” she said. “What we really want is they get comfortable on stage and just have fun.” 

Burkland’s unspoken message was “Just you wait until the spring concerts!” Most of the singers will return of the spring, which must be what the coach of a championship football team feels like when he knows all of his players will return for next season.

The SWC Concert Choir

Burklund, Lenud, Quarles and Martinez are all former students who have returned to SWC as teachers and leaders. If the measure of a great teacher is training other great teachers, Russell has excelled in her job throughout her career. It is clear that the future of SWC’s vocal music program is in good hands.

Expert and novice singers work in harmony at the annual Pops Concert.

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