Every hair on the back of the audience’s neck stood still as approximately 220 voices from multiple generations of Lehigh’s choral arts program joined together in song to fill up Baker Hall in Zoellner Arts Center.
People of all ages, students and families, packed the room on March 29 and 30 to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of choral arts at Lehigh. The concert had a notable presence of alumni there, both in the crowd and close to 60 who actively participated in the concert.
Although people don’t typically think of the choral arts when they think of Lehigh, the choral arts, in many of its forms, has been one of Lehigh’s longest traditions.
The first record of singing at Lehigh started in the 1868-69 academic year, which makes singing at Lehigh almost as old as the institution itself. The choral arts have transformed from a few students who sang songs at commencement ceremonies and in church services to four different choral groups — the University Choir, Choral Union, Glee Club and all-women’s ensemble Dolce — and a flourishing student-led a cappella scene on campus.
“We have a very distinguished tradition, I think celebrating in this concert gives students more awareness of how important the arts have been at Lehigh throughout its history,” said Steven Sametz, the director of the Lehigh Choral Arts program for the last 40 years, and who is colloquially referred to as ‘Doc’ by his students.
When Sametz arrived at Lehigh in 1979, the choral arts program used to be in Lamberton Hall, when there was an active gun range underneath it. The program briefly moved to Coppee Hall before the Zoellner Arts Center was built to accommodate and act as a home for the growing choral arts program and other music programs at Lehigh.
The Zoellner Arts Center is now the epicenter of choral arts at Lehigh and a place that many choral arts students consider their second home, as many of them spend dozens of hours there each week.
The choral arts have become not only a center for musical and performance excellence at Lehigh, but also a big social scene, extending beyond campus to the diverse and numerous alumni of the program.
“It’s basically a giant family, I’ve never met an alumni who hasn’t taken me in immediately as one of their best friends and told me all about their experience,” said Brooke Lautt, ’19, the manager of Dolce.
The pieces for the concert showcase a long timeline of music, ranging from classical choral pieces, to yodeling, to more recently-arranged choral music.
In between each choral piece during the anniversary concert, a student came up to guide the audience along the chronological 150-year journey of singing at Lehigh, interactively narrating the rich history as the different choral groups transitioned from song to song.
“It’s different,” said Corydon Zouzias, ’20, the manager of the Glee Club and the social chair of the University Choir. “I don’t feel it is entirely for the audience this time.”
He said this concert is special because it has extra value to the alumni and members of the Lehigh choral arts community who have returned to celebrate this moment together.
“This concert, what it’s doing is exploring how that type of music that we’re doing has evolved and how we as a choir, but also as a microcosm of Lehigh, have come to learn about all the different types of music from around the world and express our knowledge and our path through that music,” said Jack Wheatley, ’20, a member of the University Choir and Glee Club.
For almost three hours on Saturday night, the choral arts community at Lehigh came together to showcase its evolution and celebrate a program with extensive roots in the foundations of life at Lehigh.
Sametz was notably recognized for his work and 40-year dedication to the program at the concert on Saturday.
“This is a Lehigh story, and we like telling stories,” Sametz said. “Lots of concerts combine words and music and tell great stories from around the world; this happens to be one that’s in our very own back yard.”