Choir not for students only Auditions: Almost anyone who can carry a tune can perform with Morgan State University's widely acclaimed musicians.

November 14, 1997|By Karen Masterson | Karen Masterson,SUN STAFF

Morgan State University's choir performs for presidents and diplomats. They accompany the Baltimore and Chicago symphony orchestras on CD recordings, and their critically acclaimed classical repertoire is among the musical elite.

But few people know that almost anyone can sing with them. All it requires is showing up for a Monday night audition and being able to carry a tune.

Choir director Nathan Carter said the 6: 30 p.m. Monday auditions are open to anyone in the community who loves to sing and can stay in tune. They rehearse with the 150-plus musically trained students of the choir and become full-fledged choir members during area performances.

The first round of auditions for the holiday season began Nov. 3. Seven nervous people showed up for what they thought would be a quintessentially uptight audition, complete with solo scales in front of a room full of people.

Instead, they met in Carter's small office. He introduced himself and everyone in the room, then invited the group to join 60 students who were in the middle of a rehearsal in the chorus room down the hall.

When Carter entered the room, students stopped singing and stood at attention. He asked them to welcome the newcomers and share their song books. Then he instructed the group to sing the first movement from an orchestral work called African Portraits.

"Du wah-beh, til-lo nin ka-ro la-ne," they sang. As the group worked on perfecting an African tempo, Carter quietly left, calling auditioners one-by-one from the rehearsal room to his office.

"You say you've never sang in a choir?" Carter asked 30-year-old Julian Matthew. Matthew said he had been hearing for eight years that the Morgan choir accepted singers from the community, but that he just recently found the confidence to show up for an audition.

Sitting at the piano, Carter perfunctorily apologized for the hostile acoustics of his cluttered office. The walls were stacked with framed concert posters featuring the Morgan choir at the White House, touring Africa, accompanying Kathleen Battle at the Kennedy Center and performing at Carnegie Hall.

Carter wrinkled his forehead as if preparing for the worst and asked the shy and demure Matthew to sing a scale.

But Matthew did what very few community auditioners do -- he delivered a concert-quality pitch. So Carter asked for another scale, and then another and another, each at higher pitches. And with each challenge, the tenor delivered a clear, soft and sweet sound.

Carter's clinched face smoothed into an expression of pure pleasure. "Note that you would be somebody I would consider as a high prospect," he told Matthew as they shook hands to end the 8-minute audition.

All seven of the auditioners were put through the scales test. Some had limited range, squealing through the higher pitches. But in all of them Carter found talent, especially when he asked them to sing their favorite gospel piece. And all were invited back.

Carter said that inviting gospel singers from the community to join his classically trained choir brings a special texture to the sound. He said people with a nice tone but limited range blend in while he features his talented singers: "I know how to hide them and bring them out."

Carter is known around the world for crafting a chorus that is part gospel, part classical, part popular and all soul. He said the group's success comes mostly from hard work and dedication, and only partly from talent.

"In football, it's not just knowing how to play center, but learning how to play on a team," Carter said, pointing out the importance of rehearsals.

And he believes in friendly auditions: No director sits in the

seventh row of a darkened auditorium while singers stroll to center stage and are told by a barely visible face to sing a scale and perhaps a song. Carter said such an elite and cold approach insults the music.

Carter's choir is inclusive. Roughly 10 percent is made up of community members who sing with the full choir, such as the Dec. 14 Christmas concert at Morgan's Carl Murphy auditorium.

This year, community members will also join the full choir in the Dec. 5, 6 and 9 Philadelphia performances of African Portraits, an orchestral portrayal of how Africans came to America.

Community singers do not, however, travel with the choir. Nor do they sing when it is recording CDs or doing performances with large symphonies. Carter said such events require not just talent but an ability to read music and follow a conductor's instruction, which his students are trained to do.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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