After three long, delayed years, the OKWU Choral Festival is finally back in action on Thursday, March 24.
The tradition of the Oklahoma Wesleyan University Music Department‘s Spring Choral Festival, during which they invite students from local and surrounding high schools to come to campus and sing together, extends back multiple years. It’s a great opportunity for high school students to experience campus life as they pursue singing within the music department.
“I just thought two years was long enough. This was the time to go ahead and start it up again.”
An Impact Through Song
During OKWU’s festival, students come to campus early in the morning and spend the entire day working with the various OKWU ensembles to review the music that they have been preparing with their own choir. They get to see the campus and eat in the cafeteria and interact with college students, too—so it’s an opportunity for them to witness the whole college experience, and all the fun that awaits them if they pursue music in college.
This experience is something that Dr. Jonathan Stewart, associate professor of music and director of OKWU’s ensembles, knows is key. Before he started the festival at OKWU, he would often travel and conduct choral clinics for several local high schools. He saw the potential for a larger event immediately.
“I saw that for smaller choruses, they were able to do quite a lot—but within a certain range of music,” Stewart says. “So I thought it would be cool to have a situation where you invite area high school choirs and junior high choirs to come and enjoy a day of rehearsing in a larger context, to be able to do stuff that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
This is the first Choral Festival OKWU has been able to host in three years due to the global pandemic. During the height of the turbulence, Stewart felt it unsafe to invite so many people to campus during such uncertain times. This year, he felt it was the right time. “I just thought two years was long enough. This was the time to go ahead and start it up again,” he says.
Two local high schools—Dewey High School and Nowata High School—are sending performance ensembles to campus on March 24. They’ll spend the day with college students in the OKWU music program, rehearsing together and performing together throughout a day of fellowship. These two schools, since the second annual OKWU Choral Festival, have attended each year, and Dr. Stewart has heard personal stories of the impact the event has made on students’ lives.
“There was a young lady [one year] that came up to me and said, ‘This has been one of the highlights of my choral experience through my high school years. We have done this every year.’ That really touched me,” Stewart says. “It doesn’t seem like a huge effort on our part. But for some students it really is a highlight of their musical and choral experience.”
The final performance on March 24 will feature performances from each respective high school’s choir, the OKWU Chorale, and OKWU’s acapella group, Relentless. The event will finish with each group coming together to perform the pieces that they will work on throughout the day. This is Stewart’s favorite part.
“The big highlight is the final performance, which is pretty thrilling,” he says.
OKWU’s Choral Festival takes place at 7 PM on Thursday, March 24. Admission is free, and all are welcome to attend.