Columbus Youth Choirs and Director Win Top Honors in International Competition
Two Columbus youth choirs and their director won multiple honors in an international choir competition recently amid a slew of pandemic workarounds.
The Una Voce women’s choir won the Grand Prix in the Rimini International Choral Festival Competition. Jeanne Wohlgamuth, the ensemble’s director and also artistic director of its parent organization, the Columbus Children’s Choir, was given the prize for Best Conductor in the competition.
Wohlgamuth also led Una Voce, an ensemble of 7th through 12th graders, to win the top prize in the competition’s Equal Voice Choirs division, and the Columbus Children’s Choir’s New World Singers, a mixed ensemble of 6th through 12th graders, to win the top prize in the Children and Youth Choirs division.
Watch the prize-winning performances by Una Voce and the New World Singers here:
The Una Voce women’s choir performs Somewhere Over the Rainbow, arr. Russ Robinson
The Una Voce women’s choir performs Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, arr. Rosephanye Powell
The New World Singers perform Javier Busto’s Salve Regina
Dr. T.J. Harper, president of the competition’s jury and director of choral activities at Loyola Merrymount University in Los Angeles, praised Una Voce’s Gran Prix-winning performance for its technical assurance and musical sophistication.
“What was so remarkable about this choir was that we were able to hear a very clear and sophisticated sense of choral tone that the conductor has for the choir,” Harper said. “There was a very high level of ensemble awareness. You could tell the singers were able to listen to each other at a very high level. And there was also the ability of the choir to communicate the emotional content of the music in a very effective way.”
Harper also said Wohlgamuth won Best Conductor laurels with her ability to communicate musicality through nonverbal gestures.
“As a jury, we were all so impressed with (Wohlgamuth’s) ability to lead through her nonverbal communication. Her musical interpretation was very clearly defined in her gesture, and it was then beautifully replicated in the voices. So there was this great communication between the conductor and the singers, which is why this conductor, specifically, was given top honors,” Harper said.
Una Voce and the New World Singers competed against 34 other choirs from Italy, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Greece, Malaysia, Lithuania, Russia, Slovenia, Poland, Estonia and China. Una Voce and the New World Singers were advanced with eight other ensembles to compete for the Grand Prix.
The competition is normally held in Rimini, Italy, but because of the ongoing pandemic, choirs entered this year’s competition by submitting performances on video. The competition jury judged the video performances, then presented them on YouTube in November.
Also in response to the pandemic, in 2020 Wohlgamuth transformed Una Voce from a mixed chorus into two separate men’s and women’s ensembles, so the singers could practice more safely in person in smaller groups.
“From all the research that I did, the safest way to have in-person rehearsals was to break the choir into different ensembles of no more than 15 to 18 people. That way we were able to socially distance with masks and the windows open and all the safety precautions and still rehearse in person,” Wohlgamuth said.
The pandemic has created unique obstacles for choirs, but Wohlgamuth says being able to participate in this year’s competition online and avoid the expense of traveling to Italy meant her choirs could compete.
“These international competitions that I would like to take my singers to, we can’t financially afford,” Wohlgamuth said. “Many of these competitions have gone online for the past two years, and it’s presented some really exciting opportunities for us.”
Classical 101 Midday Host Jennifer Hambrick is a member of the Columbus Children’s Choir’s board of trustees.