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The Singing Statesmen celebrate 45th year with concert, reunion

RELEASED: Oct. 13, 2010

Singing Statesmen 45th anniversary graphic

Did you sing with the Statesmen? Alumni of the ensemble are invited to attend the reunion and perform during the Nov. 13 concert. Please view the invitation online and RSVP as soon as possible.

EAU CLAIRE — The 45th anniversary of The Singing Statesmen will be celebrated at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Nov. 12-13. Alumni of the ensemble have been invited to return to campus for a reunion and to perform as The Singing Statesmen Alumni Choir.

The event will begin with a concert by the current UW-Eau Claire ensemble at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in Gantner Concert Hall of the Haas Fine Arts Center. Alumni of The Singing Statesmen will rehearse Saturday afternoon prior to a 7:30 p.m. performance Nov. 13 in Gantner Concert Hall. Performances are open to the public and tickets are required.

As one of the premier university male choruses in the United States, The Singing Statesmen have traveled extensively — performing at historic international venues — and have released nine recordings over the years. Approximately 700 men have been members of the ensemble since it was founded in 1966.

Gary Schwartzhoff photoAccording to Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, UW-Eau Claire professor of music, the anniversary celebration offers an exciting opportunity for him to reconnect with past members and for alumni to return to the university to celebrate their part of a storied tradition. Schwartzhoff has conducted the chorus since 1991. He has also commissioned three new choral works for the ensemble in its anniversary year.

"Statesmen is a brotherhood," said John Lee, who sang tenor and baritone with the group from 1976-81. "We are brought together through a common love of making music through song. Through our experiences, we are bonded together forever."

Singing StatemenLee, was a speech major with a business administration minor, but had sung with choirs during his junior and senior high school years. After seeing the Statesmen perform on several occasions, he wanted to continue singing in college.

"I loved the sound of the male chorus and the camaraderie of the group was evident," said Lee, who now works at UW-Eau Claire as a manager of classroom planning and design for Learning and Technology Services. Lee cherishes his part of the group's history and the friendships he acquired, and said he matured and developed self-confidence through performing, traveling and living with host families in foreign countries.

"The saying 'Once a Statesman, always a Statesman' is so true," he said.

Lee performed under the direction of the late Morris D. Hayes, professor emeritus of music and founder of The Singing Statesmen. Hayes, who sought to create an outstanding choral ensemble for male voices, conducted the group until 1988. Bruce McInnes led the group from 1988-90 before Schwartzhoff took the baton. This past January Schwartzhoff received a lifetime achievement award for choral direction from the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association. He has escorted The Singing Statesmen on six concert tours abroad.

Since its inception, the ensemble has included members from diverse academic disciplines who share a common respect and admiration for choral music. The group's repertoire ranges from Renaissance and sacred music to contemporary.

Shawn Ryser, current president of The Singing Statesmen, believes his experience in the group will help him in his professional life because he has learned to work well with all kinds of people.

"We all share a love for music, but most of us do not plan on pursuing it," said Ryser, a senior psychology major from Eau Claire. "You are part of something so much bigger — a tradition of brotherhood upheld throughout the years with pride. I can say that I have grown into a man because of Statesmen, and I know I am not the only one."

Matt Wanner did go on to pursue music after receiving a bachelor's degree in music education from UW-Eau Claire in 1998 and his master's in music education with a choral conducting emphasis. He currently works as choral director and music department chair at Muskego High School. Some of his former students have joined The Singing Statesmen at UW-Eau Claire.

"There is a special spirit among members of The Singing Statesmen," Wanner said. "Now that I stand on the other side of the podium, I have had the pleasure of sending my own students to share in that brotherhood. I love hearing from them early in the fall after they have had their first glimpse of the magic. It never fails — I feel like I'm 19 again experiencing the whole thing with them for the first time."

Some of Schwartzhoff's favorite memories include performing at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association, hosting the Intercollegiate Male Choruses Symposium on campus, this year's tour of Beunos Aires and the release of a DVD featuring the history of The Singing Statesmen. Another less prominent and yet entertaining highlight of the group's history is the first ever Statesmen bobble head, to be released in November.

The ensemble toured Argentina and Uruguay in January, participating in Mass at the Basilica of San Francisco and performing in La Plata Cathedral in Buenos Aires. Mike Jones, a May graduate, enjoyed the concerts but said the impromptu moments, singing spontaneously as they toured the city, will be forever in his heart.

"I will always remember standing at the center of Buenos Aires with 68 of my brothers on New Year's Eve singing songs on our own for at least 100 Argentines."

Lee's memories from a trip to Scandinavia 30 years prior are strikingly similar. "Wherever we went, we sang. When waiting to catch a ferry boat through one of the fjords, we put on a mini concert. Then, there was the time that we serenaded a young lady on a balcony across the street from our hotel.

"We enjoyed meeting people along the way and sharing our love of song."

Lee looks forward to reminiscing, meeting Statesmen from other generations and singing some of his favorite songs once again.

"It is actually amazing how many of the songs we still remember and can still make sound pretty darned good!"

Tickets for both concerts, available at the University Service Center, 715-836-3727 or 1-800-949-UWEC, are $6 for the public; $4 for those 62 and older, 17 and younger, and faculty and staff with a university ID; and $1.50 for students with a university ID.

Statesmen alumni who have not responded to the invitation are encouraged to view the invitation online and RSVP as soon as possible.

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RD/DW

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