MSU Singers Nervous, Excited About Inauguration Performance

Jan 10, 2017

(L-R) MSU Choral Studies Director Dr. Cameron LaBarr, Ruthie Carter, Eric Swanson, Chandler Cooper
Credit Michele Skalicky

The Missouri State University Chorale is anxiously anticipating January 20—the day millions of eyes will turn to the nation’s capitol for the inauguration of the 45th U.S. president.  The 50-member choir will be part of the ceremony and has commissioned a new piece for the event.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has the story.

The MO State Chorale is ready to take the national stage next week, and they’ve worked hard to get to this point.  After U.S. Senator Roy Blunt surprised the choir in early October with news that they’d be part of the inauguration ceremony, Dr. Cameron LaBarr, director of Choral Studies at MSU, reached out to Tennessee composer, John Wykoff, to create a new piece for the Chorale to sing.  The text is by poet, Michael Dennis Brown.

"And speaks to this idea of coming together as a country and as a people from a variety of places," LaBarr said.

While President elect-Donald Trump hasn’t been without controversy, LaBarr said the choir has known from the beginning they would take part in the inauguration in a non-partisan way.  And senior vocal education major and Chorale member, Chandler Cooper, said the piece they’re singing, "Now We Belong," sends a message that’s needed now.

"It's all about coming together and unifying, you know, just really paints that bigger picture that this is about all of us as opposed to one political party or one person--this is about the country as a whole, and so having that in mind I think maybe casts aside any thoughts of doubt or hesitation that people might have," Cooper said.

"It sends a beautiful message to everyone to share a sense of hope for the future," said LaBarr.  "It starts out with this text, 'here are the voices of every creature.  Here are the calls of every heart.  Here is the place of strangers welcome.  We who once walked in strangers shoes, once we were strangers we were welcomed.  Now we belong and believe in this land.'  It goes on to say, 'here are the rivers of many echoes.  Here are the leaves of every tree.  Within us live the long horizons, winds that stir the sacred stones."

As of now, the MO State Chorale is scheduled to take the stage near the beginning of the ceremony, which will start at 10:30 a.m. Central Standard Time.  Their piece will be followed by the swearing-in of the vice president, a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and then the swearing-in of the president.

LaBarr said the performance opportunity is “incredibly meaningful” for the MSU choir program and for the MSU music department as a whole.

"Any chance we get to share our music with others is a great chance for us to invite people to consider perhaps coming to school here," he said.

Chorale members are excited and a little nervous about taking the stage in front of millions of people—live and on television—but senior Ruthie Carter, a vocal education major from St. Louis, said Dr. LaBarr has prepared them well.

"We've been working really hard as a group, as an ensemble, but also individually, so it's really had each individual really step up to the game, but, yeah, I think we're a little nervous, but I think we can put those nerves into action and use them for good," she said.

Eric Swanson, a senior vocal education major from Independence, has been trying to think of their participation in the inauguration as just another performance but with a larger audience.

"I believe in the ability of the group, and we're all wonderful musicians and great performers, and I think it will be our best performance to date--just in front of millions and millions of people," he said.

Their families are as excited as they are, the Chorale members say, and they’ll be eagerly awaiting the performance on the 20th.  Carter remembers the moment choir members learned they’d be performing at the inauguration.  She called her mom, a first grade teacher, during the middle of the day.

"And she was kind of freaking out because I don't call her during the day, so she sees this phone call from me, and she says, 'oh, no.  Something bad has happened--my daughter's calling me during the day,' but I had to tell her, like, it was just huge news.  I had to tell her at that time," Carter said.

Swanson thought about keeping the news from his parents to surprise them and telling them to tune in to the inauguration, but he knew they’d eventually find out from someone else, so he told them.

"And my mom thought I was joking with her.  She was like, 'no, you're kidding, right?'  And I'm like, 'yeah, it's a thing.  It's happening.'  I didn't quite believe it myself until a week after, honestly.  I thought Dr. LaBarr was playing a joke on us," he said.

His parents told all their friends, and suddenly Swanson felt like a celebrity.

Cooper said his family was ecstatic when he told them the news, and they were in disbelief.

"And, you know, it's just been really nice having all this support, and it's just kind of overwhelming almost," he said.

The group and their director have been overwhelmed, too, by the community support they’ve received.  A Crowd Funding campaign to raise money for the choir’s outdoor performance attire at last count was at around double the $13,500 they’d initially hoped to raise.  If the total keeps rising and gets to $43,000, LaBarr says they’ll have enough left over for a choral endowment.

A send-off concert is planned for this Saturday night (1/14) at 6 at the Davis-Harrington Welcome Center on the MSU campus.  The Chorale will perform the same concert they’ll also perform on January 21 at National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. 

A watch party is tentatively planned for 10:30 a.m. on January 20 in the Plaster Student Union Theatre.