It was during his time in college when James Armstrong realized his love of music and he's still at it. The choir he leads at College of William & Mary stops by Dover for a free concert Friday, March 18.
It was during his time in college when James Armstrong realized his love of music. When it became clear to him that music was something he could not live without, he decided to pursue a career in choral music. Now, Armstrong is the director of choirs and an associate professor of music at the College of William & Mary.
The choir will be stopping in Dover on Friday, March 18, for the first stop of the Choir Spring Tour. The tour also features stops in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and in the choir’s home state of Virginia.
Q When did the choir start at W&M?
A It’s been a long time, maybe 88 years ago. Probably more than 90 years ago.
Q How many students are in the choir?
A We have 63 students split up into the four parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. We can sing in as many as eight parts though.
Q Who can join the choir?
A So many different types of students join the choir. We have some music majors but we have students from all disciplines and all walks of life. The school was started in 1693 — we are the second oldest school in the U.S. We have a tradition of singing so the students we bring here, music is really important to them.
Q What’s it like to be a member of the choir?
A We have so many different types of interests and walks of life. The students become friends and some even go on to get married. We practice six hours a week, every week of the year. We have 30 to 40 performances a year so we get to know each other pretty well. The better we know each other, the better our performances are. The choir is a mirror of the kind of community William & Mary values.
Q Why are you coming to Delaware?
A We have two students in the choir from Delaware and they were kind of enough, through their parents, to set the concert up. The two students are Hannah Ostroff and Chantalle Ashord. Usually, a family church or school offers to host us. First Baptist isn’t their family church but the parents helped to set it up.
Q What can people expect from the concert?
A A real mix of repertoire. It will be a journey through Europe, Russia and back home again in the U.S. They’ll experience music from England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Georgia and two spirituals. The mixture of repertoire represents different styles of music and traditional repertoire. We’ll also sing a song specifically written for the choir by Adolphus Hailstork. The song is based on a poem by Phyllis Wheatley. It was written in 2001 and we haven’t done it in almost 10 years. I don’t know how widely it’s been used, but it’s not something well known.
Q How many performances do you do a year?
A We have 30 to 40 appearances a year, which include full-length concerts and a lot of various things such as commencement and convocation.
Q How long have you been the choir director at W&M?
A For 15 years and I also teach a variety of music classes and music history. I love working with my students. They are so bright and want to make good music. We have a lot of fun together. We hope the audience gets to share in that joy.
Q Why did you want to become a choir director?
A Because it was clear for me when I left college that music is the one thing I couldn’t live without. So I pursued a career in it and I found choral music was the thing for me. I got my bachelor’s from Princeton University and my master’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I went back there for my doctorate in the ’90s.
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