The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Concert choir takes stage at nation’s capital

Nov. 22, 1963.  One of those days that stand apart from others in American history. If you were alive on that day it is likely you also know exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard that President John F. Kennedy had been killed.

Gary Schwartzhoff, professor of Music and director of Choral Activities at UW-Eau Claire, is one of those people who remembers that infamous day clearly. He was twelve years old when Kennedy was assassinated, and loves to tell his students about the days of Camelot.

The weekend of Feb. 2, Schwartzhoff will not simply reminisce about the days of our nation’s 35th president. Instead Schwartzhoff, along with the 69 members of Eau Claire’s concert choir and 35 members from local community ensemble The Master Singers will load buses to embark on a 19-hour trip whose destination is the nation’s capital.

The group will perform, as the featured choir, at the National President’s Day Choral Festival: A musical remembrance of the Life and Service of John F. Kennedy. Schwartzhoff will be the artistic director for the festival and will conduct a choir comprised of 300 musicians from five different states.

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This event is presented by Music Celebrations International to take place at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on Feb 3.

Schwartzhoff often tells his students about being a child of the Kennedy era. Senior music education major and concert choir accompanist Andy Steffen said it is a time period in Schwartzhoff’s life that he is just so in love with.

“We do realize how big this is but I don’t think we will really realize it until we start this rehearsal process and there’s 300 people together total all working on the same music,” Steffen said.

However, this is not Schwartzhoff and the ensembles first time performing at the festival, but it is one that the well-respected director has been long awaiting.

“The first President’s Day festival was in February 2009. That year was the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been asked to conduct in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but I turned others down because I really wanted this one — I wanted it to stand out,” Schwartzhoff said.

On Feb. 2 the choir will perform at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where JFK’s funeral service was held, before their performance on Feb. 3.

Senior Isaac Risseeuw is most looking forward to the Feb. 3 performance where he and 68 other Eau Claire singers will take center stage for a performance they “will never forget.”

Not only will members of Eau Claire’s concert choir have a personal connection to Schwartzhoff that the 200 other musicians don’t, they have another special connection to one of the compositions.

The show will be the world premier of a composition by former Eau Claire professor Ethan Wickman, “Let The Word Go Forth.” As Wickman was completing the choral scores last spring he brought them into Eau Claire choir’s to help him hear how they sounded.

“Having had him as a teacher and being able to work with him on this piece has been amazing,” Risseeuw said.

As the performers stand on the nation’s concert hall stage before the director they admire singing a composition of a former professor it is sure to be an emotional moment.

“I’ve had conversations with (Schwartzhoff) about how emotional he’s going to be when he conducts the concert and there’s a special connection with him and just one tear in his eye will make us all emotional,” Risseeuw said. “It will be a big part of that concert — the connection that we will have with him.”

It will be a special moment that Schwartzhoff plans to enjoy fully, because he acknowledges that this is the type of performance all musicians aspire to do throughout their lives.

Schwartzhoff was just 12 years old on that infamous November day that he, along with so many others, will never forget. Now the time has come for him to honor President Kennedy through his lifelong passion for music.

Schwartzhoff said, “In terms of that center stage experience, it’s not going to get better than this in my life.”

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Concert choir takes stage at nation’s capital