The University Voices, a choir with 25 members including faculty and student volunteers, has been around for at least two years, but many students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio are unaware a choir even exists.
“If I had a dime for every time I hear someone say, ‘What, we have a choir?’ I’d be rich,” said Martha Saywell, music appreciation professor and leader of the University Voices.
The choir was active before Saywell joined the faculty, but it had disintegrated. She began teaching at A&M-San Antonio in Fall 2016. A couple of former choir members told her they wanted to restore the choir.
“Being the only music professor on campus and there not being a music program, I thought it was very important to start something.” Saywell said. “It was a little bit overwhelming and I thought this is the perfect way to do music activities. It was something that we can get on the ground and we could build from there.”
By spring 2017, the choir officially reestablished. Since then they have performed at events such as commencement and convocation.
Saywell’s specialty is piano; she has been playing since she was 6 years old. Though singing is her secondary instrument, Saywell sings along with the choir when rehearsing but backs off closer to performance time, finding it difficult to direct and accompany at the same time.
“It gets a little comical occasionally, because I have to toss my head around to do the directions because my hands are busy,” Saywell said.
Saywell says it was a bit of a process to restore the choir. She started with approximately five members. She didn’t have any music at all and began by getting copies of the national anthem and the alma mater song, traditional choir songs that are expected at events. She also had to send a proposal to the chief of staff to approve the group.
“It was pretty easy. You kind of state your intention and what the mission of the group will be and what purpose it serves,” Saywell said.
The choir’s small budget is used to purchase sheet music. They have a keyboard they use to practice and move around.
Saywell would love to purchase choir risers in the future, but they are expensive; an average choir riser costs upwards of $1,000. A choir riser allows the singers in the back row to also be seen and heard as much as the performers in the front.
At one point, the choir consisted of more faculty than students; now there are more students than faculty. Saywell says she didn’t know if it would be unusual to direct a choir with a variety of students and faculty, but everyone just kind of turns it off because everyone is there to sing.
“There isn’t an issue at all and we just work together as peers, which is really cool, I think,” Saywell said.
Saywell says her biggest challenge is visibility. The choir posts posters on bulletin boards, but since there are so many flyers, she said people may miss theirs. It’s also challenging because people won’t prioritize the choir since it’s strictly volunteer. They are always looking for new members; anybody can join.
Education senior Sarah Garcia has been an alto in the choir for two years. She says her biggest challenge is scheduling, but she makes time because she loves it.
“I was nervous the first time we performed at graduation, because I haven’t sung since high school, but I was able to shake off any nerves that I had going into the performance.” Garcia said.
Garcia first performed with The University Voices at the spring 2017 graduation. She attended Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering where she also participated in choir.
She said joining the choir at A&M-San Antonio was really easy. She just contacted Saywell, told her what voice she was and joined. She didn’t even have to audition. Her favorite song to sing is the alma mater song, “Bienvenidos”.
Garcia also says this is the biggest the choir has been, since she joined, She recommends more students join.
“If you love singing, don’t think about it twice. You’ll have a lot of fun. We’re like a big family,” Garcia said.
Ann Bliss, chair of the Department of Language Literature and Arts, says they sing at commencement and convocation.
“They are fantastic, they sound amazing. It’s opened to anybody who wants to be in it,” Bliss said.
Their next performance will be a pop-up concert at noon Dec. 2. in the lobby of the Science and Technology Building; the theme of the concert will be peace. The song they are looking forward to perform will be “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. They will also sing Christmas music at Lights of Esperanza at 5 p.m. Dec. 3. outside of the Central Academic Building.
For more information about the choir, contact Saywell at 210-784-2563.