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February 27, 2014

SUNY Oneonta senior, professor sing on global stage

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Jill Massey, a music major in her senior year at SUNY Oneonta, said a recent trip to London to perform in the prestigious Philharmonia Chorus was life-changing.

Massey, of Bloomville, and associate professor of music Timothy Newton arrived home on Monday after a week-long stay in London which included lots of site-seeing and intense rehearsals, they said Wednesday. Their hard work culminated in a grand Feb. 23 performance at the Royal Festival Hall. Newton and Massey were two of only five Americans in the 160-person choir, Newton said.

Founded in 1957, the Philharmonia Chorus has become one of Europe’s premier symphony choruses, according to its website. The chorus is made up of top singers from reputable performing organizations and conservatories in London and around the world.

Ten years ago, Newton was living in London, he said, and decided to audition for the esteemed choir. He made the cut, he said, and has since developed a relationship with the director that allows him to perform with the choir with minimal notice. In November, Newton said, the director invited him to perform in the chorus’ Feb. 23 performance of Johannes Brahms’ choral masterwork “Ein deutsche Requiem,” and asked him if he knew a student or two who could also perform.

Massey, 21, and two other students auditioned for the director via video, but Massey was the only one who made it. Newton said this was the first time a student from Oneonta has had the opportunity to perform on such a noteworthy international concert platform, and called Massey’s voice a “good, natural instrument.” Brahms’ piece is fairly difficult, with long musical phrases and two intricate fugues, Newton said, but Massey learned it quickly.

“She worked really, really hard for this,” Newton said. “She was able to pull it together quickly during the busy end of the semester, and now she can sing it in her sleep.”

The trip was Massey’s first time out of the country, she said. She said Newton was an excellent travel companion and brought her to as many tourist attractions as possible, including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and several famous art museums.

The rest of the time, Massey said, they were intently rehearsing, which they began doing more than a month and a half ago in Oneonta. Over the course of the week, there were five rehearsals with the German director who, Newton said, “takes no prisoners” and whose career is currently “on fire.”

“To go from singing in Oneonta to singing for him, it’s an amazing opportunity for Jill,” Newton said. “It opens doors.”

Massey said she was nervous at the thought of performing in such talented company.

“I was really scared at first,” Massey said. “I rehearsed for three hours before the actual first rehearsal.”

Her preparation paid off, she said, and left her feeling invigorated and confident during the rehearsals, which she called “intense,” as well as during the performance. She said it was amazing to be surrounded with so many high-quality singers who all knew the music by heart and conducted themselves professionally.

“I can’t really explain it,” Massey said, “but you just sort of get in this zone where you stop hearing your own voice and just listen to the whole group.”

Newton said one of his favorite parts of the week was getting to sing in Henry Wood Hall, a famous recording studio in London. Massey declined to choose a favorite, but said the most challenging aspect was getting through customs. She paid for some of the travel fees, she said, but a grant from SUNY Oneonta funded the rest. Massey said instead of staying at a hotel, she was lucky enough to be housed by another member of the choir.

A 2010 graduate of South Kortright Central School, Massey was involved in the high school’s chorus, band and musicals. She participated in Area All-County, NYSSMA, and Area All-State. These events, she said, helped strengthen her ability to “jump right into” a piece of music and learn it quickly for a performance. She said the South Kortright community has been very supportive of her and was excited about her opportunity in London.

At SUNY Oneonta, Massey sings in the Concert Choir and has performed in several operas, including last month’s “The Fairy Queen.” Massey said she isn’t sure what she wants to do after graduation, but knows she wants to keep singing. She called the London performance and trip “so great,” and said it meant the world to her.

“It was the greatest, most important thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she said.