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Lifelong Learning through the Joy of Song

Alumni members of the American University Chorus help build a lifelong community through the power of music.

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Members of the American University Chorus surround accompanist Barbara Wilkinson in the Katzen Arts Center.

Every Tuesday, music fills the halls of Katzen Arts Center as the American University Chorus rehearses in its Abramson Family Recital Hall. Singers find a community of lifelong learners through the unique power of vocal performance. Directed by Casey Cook, membership is around 70 singers and includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Recent performances include Carmina Burana, modern American composers, and this semester’s performance of Brahms and Sibelius.

Bill Rogers, a double Eagle alum of the School of Public Affairs and a member of the chorus, has witnessed the evolution of the arts programs at the university for more than two decades. Since 2001, Bill has missed only four semesters. He has also demonstrated a lifelong commitment, singing with the chorus as an undergraduate in the 1980s. “I enjoy singing in a chorus because you are literally part of the instrument making the music, and for the accomplishment of bringing a large group of people together to achieve a specific goal,” Bill says, adding that participating in the chorus keeps him a part of the AU community. He is a treasured member of the ensemble to each singer interviewed, and to the whole of the group.

This semester, several chorus members are alumni. Andrew Smith, SIS/MA ’07, first sang with the AU Chorus in 2006. “I moved back to DC this past August and wanted a musical outlet … I had great memories of the AU chorus. I wandered into Katzen and read that the chorus accepts alums,” he says. As a graduate he enjoys feeling reconnected with the university, and the chorus has also helped grow his career. Through a connection in the group, he was introduced to a job in the State Department teaching English at a university in Bosnia & Herzegovina. “Never would have happened without being in the chorus” he says.

Sarah McKellar, SIS/BA ’19, has been with the group since 2016. “Alumni bring a different level of wisdom and experience. We’re able to help younger students,” she says. Helping students is a constant theme for the alumni members. Sarah also met her partner, Kaela Thurber, CAS/BA ’22, while singing with the chorus. For her part, Kaela says she “enjoys learning the history behind the pieces we sing,” and intends to pursue learning through music throughout her life. Sarah currently serves as president of the DC Young Alumni Chapter, encouraging other young alumni to find community in DC.

Alumni presence has a noted impact on the student singers. First-year student Richard Young, Jr. finds that seeing alumni contributing their talent gives him “a warm feeling inside.” Being a first-year student can be a challenge, of course, and for Richard, being a part of the AU Chorus has provided him with a network of support. “I’ve made relationships with several alumni that took me under their wings, assisting with my college experiences,” he says.

Barbara Wilkinson has been involved with the AU Chorus for more than five years as the group’s accompanist. She finds that alumni become “unspoken leaders” in their individual sections. “The chorus provides a rich community experience intent on making meaningful music together,” she says. “A huge element would be missing if there were no alums.”

Engaging as an alum provides a unique opportunity for lifelong learning. As the alumni singers demonstrate, their experiences and leadership bring a sense of community, stability, and guidance to younger students and to the group as a whole. By remaining connected to the university through various programs such as the traditional Dinner With Alumni, Alumni Affinity Groups, the Alumni Audit Program, or the Alumni Admissions Volunteers Network, alumni build a community not just for themselves; but for current and future students who also call AU home.

See the AU Chorus and AU Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms and Sibelius on December 3 and 4. Tickets are available here. Find more information on the Department of Performing Arts here. Give to The Arts at AU here.