In early February, auditions began for Drake Vocal Jazz, the first jazz choir at Drake University. Drake has never had a vocal jazz group but has had multiple jazz instrumental groups.
“The songs that we’ll be doing will obviously be jazz songs,” said Ryan Orme, a member of Drake Vocal Jazz. “But also, in a jazz choir we use microphones which is different than most choirs, and the vocal stylings are a lot different. You wouldn’t technically use your classical singing in a jazz standard.”
Orme added that the choir would like to implement piano, drums and bass in the future.
Orme and Aryn Marner, a member of Drake Vocal Jazz, had approached Dr. Ann Cravero, professor of voice at Drake University, late last semester and asked to start the choir.
Cravero said she had been interested in jazz for years, having been in a jazz choir in high school, and had conducted research on jazz choirs on the side. Last year, jazz vocalist Alyssa Allgood performed at Drake University held a masterclass and organized a jazz combo which according to Cravero created increased interest in jazz choral music at Drake.
“We figured we were the students who were the most interested in doing it,” Orme said. “So then we planned on holding auditions in February, we did it and now we’re starting.”
Cravero and jazz musician Avi Gedler held auditions in early February and selected 17 students based on music-reading, preparation, intonation, pitch-center and tonal memory.
Auditions were open to all students and were advertised on Instagram and with flyers. To prepare, students had to select and rehearse a jazz piece. The final choir consists of a mixture of students from the music department and other majors.
“I’ve always wanted to do something vocal here on campus and I was looking around, saw the flyers, and thought I’d give it a shot,” Wil Russell, a member of Drake Vocal Jazz, said. Russell chose to audition with “A Spice of Life” by Manhattan Transfer because of its jazziness, poppiness.
In the choir, each vocal part has four people, which helps with scheduling and vocal support. Auditions will be held in the spring semester each year unless a student graduates, in which auditions will be held to fill the space.
The choir is currently working on two songs, “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” and a ballad, “For All We Know.” Orme selected “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.”
“It sounds fun, it’s a swing tune, it has a lot of good solo and improvisation opportunities,” Orme said.
The choir’s most recent rehearsal began with warmups, then transitioned to adding notes to the sheet music. Cravero led rehearsal of the ballad she’d selected while Orme led the rehearsal of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.”
“One of my missions was to provide music education students the opportunity to do some assistant directing, to learn this new genre so when they move forward if they’re conducting high school, they will have some tools on how to go about leading a jazz ensemble,” Cravero said. “So I gave Ryan the opportunity to pick some repertoire out.”
Practices are weekly, and the choir is working on scheduling. Spring break and a voice department competition made it difficult to rehearse after the choir formed.
Marner and Orme created an Instagram where they announced the inaugural auditions and results. The Instagram account, @drake.vocal.jazz, has around 75 followers so far.
“We haven’t done so much for the outreach yet just because we’re still in the early stages. This is only our second rehearsal,” Marner said. “We’re definitely using the semester as kind of an experiment.”
Drake Vocal Jazz will not be performing at any events this semester but plans to perform in the fall, possibly performing at Drake choir concerts, collaborating with Drake jazz ensembles, or hosting guest soloists. Cravero is in the early stages of pursuing funding to get the organization sound equipment. In the future, the choir hopes to invite jazz experts to hold clinics on jazz topics or their experiences.
“I’m always grateful for the support of the music department and my colleagues for supporting my ideas,” Cravero said. “I’m really blessed to be working with Drake students who are excited about trying something new, the energy that they bring to each rehearsal and to the department in general.”