Choir Returns to OKMEA After Short Hiatus


Photo provided by Dr. Hanson

Many students, including Noah Holden, Gabi Merchen, Clay Edwards, David Orgas, Mobi Jones, Isaiah Young, Sparrow Marturano, and Lydia Wills, gathered in the First Baptist Church in Tulsa late last week to better themselves and their talents through workshops and concerts.

Gabi Merchen, Contributing Writer

Dr. Jan Hanson, professor of music and conductor of USAO’s Concert Choir and Chamber Ensemble, and Dr. Kate Sekula, associate professor of music and coordinator of the music department, led a group of singers and instrumentalists to the Oklahoma Music Educators Association (OKMEA) last week, representing USAO at the state’s largest collaborative honors musicians’ conference.

The 2023 winter conference spanned from Wednesday, January 18th to Saturday, January 21st. According to their official website, this year’s OKMEA convention featured nine total All-State groups including Children’s Chorus, Mixed Chorus, Treble Chorus, Symphonic Band, Wind Symphony, Jazz Band, Orchestra, Intercollegiate Band, and Intercollegiate Choir.

USAO has been unable to send representatives to OKMEA since before the pandemic. A host of scheduling, weather, funding, and public health issues made the journey to Tulsa and the consequent conference impossible to manage.

Whether or not the event was even financially feasible remained in question for much of last year, but Dr. Hanson stood firm in the belief that one can’t put a price on a student’s academic and musical enrichment.

“Coming off of Covid, we missed it a couple of years, and I think it’s a rare opportunity to work with new people and a new conductor,” said Dr. Hanson. “It’s also a great chance for students in the music education program to make connections with future colleagues.”

Traveling to Tulsa early Wednesday morning, the group of singers and instrumentalists spent the remainder of their week engaged in rigorous rehearsals and enlightening workshops designed to enhance both individual and group musicianship. The event included sessions on important topics in musical education such as elementary music, collegiate music, and orchestral instruction.

As early as their Wednesday wakeup call was, fourth-year vocal music education major Noah Holden says the lost sleep was completely worthwhile to attend the event in Tulsa.

“I think the fact that we get the ability to sing with other collegiate groups from different colleges is really cool,” said Holden. “That’s an opportunity I haven’t had since I did All-State in high school, which was always an amazing experience. It’s cool that we get to sing with a bigger choral group than we’re used to with people from different areas all over the state.”

Also in attendance at the conference was fourth-year vocal music education major Lydia Wills who serves as the President of the Collegiate Oklahoma Music Educators Association.

“I think this is a really good opportunity for professional development and networking with music educators from across the state,” said Wills. “It gives us a chance to get more familiar with the people we’ll eventually be working with.”

For Dr. Sekula, one of the highlights of the conference was reuniting with past alumni and seeing former students flourish musically.

“The alumni would come by, take a selfie, and we would give them swag,” said Dr. Sekula.

The choral experience culminated in a concert at First Baptist Church on Thursday. The concert featured both contemporary works from the brightest minds in modern composition as well as timeless pieces from the iconic masterminds of the Viennese classical trinity. The instrumentalists’ concert followed much the same pattern, unveiling their own challenging repertoire in a concert later in the day.

The collegiate honor choir’s concert featured a piece by young composer Christopher Harris entitled “Joy Never Leaves.” Harris was also the choir’s featured guest conductor who, despite a bout of illness, led his group of singers in a memorable performance that served as the perfect encapsulation of the conference’s ability to generate rewarding musical experiences.

“This conference has renewed and invigorated and built some of the most beautiful and enriching and necessary relationships for me,” said Harris. “Connecting with students again after being on medical leave, it’s the lifeblood of my whole existence.”


Gabi Merchen is a third-year Communication major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.