“The opportunity of a lifetime.”
“A mind-blowing experience.”
“The best week of my life.”
“An experience beyond my wildest dreams.”
“My most treasured memory.”
“A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“The highlight of my university years.”
These were just some of the remarks from members of The University Singers after their recent concert tour to the United Kingdom. From August 11-18, 2022, The Singers, together with British composer Philip W. Stopford, performed at Westminster Abbey, Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, and Portsmouth Cathedral. Off days were filled with visits to Windsor, Oxford, and London, where The Singers immersed themselves in the country’s rich traditions, history, and culture.
Every year the Department of Music at Southwestern Adventist University holds the Southwestern Music Festival, an event that is hosted at the University, with the final, grand concert at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. It is through the Music Festival that The Singers were first introduced to Mr. Stopford. Since 2017, the Festival has been at the forefront of new music creation, with the establishment of the Festival Commission Project, an initiative that has attracted some of the most influential composers of this generation to collaborate with Southwestern Adventist University and its music scholars. With an amazing list of previous guests, Ēriks Ešenvalds (2017); Kim André Arnesen (2018); Craig Courtney (2019); and Brandon A. Boyd (2020), Southwestern welcomed British composer Philip W. Stopford as its guest composer for the 2022 Southwestern Music Festival this past February.
The experience at the Southwestern Music Festival led Stopford, who is a former member of the Westminster Abbey Choir, to recommend to the Abbey that they host The University Singers as the Abbey’s Visiting Choir. Invitations came from Westminster Abbey, Portsmouth Cathedral, and Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. “Philip Stopford is one of the leading composers and choral minds in Great Britain,” said Jonathan Wall, Artistic Director of the Southwestern Music Festival and Director of The University Singers. “It was an absolute joy to work with him at the Festival and a true delight to receive his recommendation to be visiting choir at Westminster Abbey, Portsmouth Cathedral, and Quarr Abbey. We learned so much from Philip, who was extremely generous with his time. He taught us so much about the various service traditions, provided invaluable insight on his own compositions, and served as an incredible host! We look forward to a long-lasting friendship between us.”
“Having been invited to SWAU last February to premiere ‘God Is Our Hope and Strength,’ it has been an absolute delight to welcome The Singers to the United Kingdom,” said Stopford. “The concert at Quarr Abbey and church services at Portsmouth Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were utterly wonderful. I was so impressed not only by the sound and musical mastery of this choir but by the way these young people engaged in the requirements of the liturgy and style of music required for worship in the Anglican Church, which they performed so beautifully. It was a proud moment for me to have recommended this choir to sing at Westminster Abbey and for them to be immediately invited back at some point in the future. The choir also performed my recently composed anthem, ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd,’ in Westminster Abbey, which I will never forget. Thank you so much for coming to the UK and sharing your gifts and talents with us, and I can’t wait to see you all again soon.”
The Singers were accompanied by a string quartet led by Associate Professor Dr. Rogério Nunes, for the entirety of the tour. “If there is something that thrills, excites, and motivates us as musicians, it is having the opportunity to perform in places where most of the music composed was meant to be performed,” said Dr. Nunes. “On this trip, performing in centuries-old churches was a sublime experience and definitely one that our students will never forget! And once again, they did represent not only the Department of Music but Southwestern Adventist University at the highest level! Such experience will definitely contribute to the growth, development, and motivation of our students, as well as promoting not only the Department of Music but the University internationally.”
The Singers and Strings were also musical guests on the weekend at Newbold Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Newbold College of Higher Education. Dr. Sandra Rigby-Barrett, former Director of Adventist Colleges Abroad and Fine Arts faculty at Newbold College of Higher Education, was one of the many generous tour hosts. “The congregation at Newbold Church in Binfield were deeply blessed by the music ministry of the Southwestern Adventist University choir and instrumentalists. Indeed, it was a great honor to host this beautiful and highly accomplished choir. Their music contributions to the service were sincerely delivered, and there was a tangible impact on the congregation of the choir members’ love of and service to our loving God, which was so ably and professionally directed by Associate Professor Jonathan Wall, Dr. Rogério Nunes, and Dr. Devon Howard. It is rare to find such a blend of humbleness, sincerity, musical professionalism, and understanding of true Christian worship. For these reasons, we were truly blessed and would welcome the choir and its directors and instrumentalists back to Newbold at any time. The University can be so proud of their magnificent accomplishments.”
Ana Patterson, president of Southwestern Adventist University, shared, “Invitations to perform in London at Westminster Abbey, Quarr Abbey, and Portsmouth Cathedral are a true testament to the Department of Music’s dedication to excellence. Under the direction of a distinguished team of professors, students are able to fine-tune their talents and share them for the glory of God. We are so proud of their performances and grateful for the many opportunities for Southwestern Adventist University students to excel through music.”
Since 2012, The University Singers have traveled to 18 countries sharing the gospel message through music. Dr. Devon Howard, chair of the Department of Music, shares that “Southwestern’s Department of Music is unique in the way it prioritizes travel as not only a way for students to have distinctive experiences and exposure to ideas, but also as a way to share the University’s commitment to education rooted in knowledge, faith, and service.”