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Carol and Paul Head listen to the premiere performance of The Dream, which was commissioned by UD choral students, alumni and friends to celebrate Dr. Head's 25th anniversary of teaching at UD.
Since joining UD in 1998, Paul D. Head has led the choral program to international prominence, creating a legacy of choral music education in the process.
As a teenager, I found my own personal identity while singing in the high school choir. That was a safe place where I could resonate with other humans while expressing myself through the vehicle of music married with prose. That caused me to rethink everything I thought I knew about love, life and the concept of existence. Singing in a choir is an opportunity to be fully alive, unabashedly yourself and an integral part of a committed community all at the same time. Paul Head
It’s this philosophy that Paul D. Head, Unidel Professor of Music and director of choral studies, has followed throughout his 25 years at the University of Delaware.
During his tenure, Head has built a community of hundreds of choral musicians who have performed in Asia and Europe, building relationships through music, including a lasting partnership with famed Welsh composer Paul Mealor, whose composition Kyrie Eleison was sung at the coronation of King Charles III.
To celebrate his silver anniversary, Head’s choral conducting graduate students Sarah Wojcik (‘21 B.M. choral/general music education) and Jay Besch, organized a surprise for him at the annual UD Spring Chorale concert.
The students performed a newly commissioned piece, The Dream. More than 100 choral alumni, members of Schola Cantorum, and even former students from Head’s days teaching high school in California, joined Chorale to perform the final movement, “My Soul, a Vibrant Harp of Love,” written by Mealor.
What a joy it was to have been given the opportunity to write a new piece - in secret - for the wonderful Paul Head and his special anniversary. Paul is a unique individual who inspires the very best out of every person he meets. His music-making is first class and second to none! It was a joy to write this for him as a gift from his students - past and present. Paul Mealor
Wojcik and Besch had collected donations for The Dream, and with Mealor’s help they contacted composers to write the other four movements: Dan Forrest, John Frederick Hudson, Joanna Gill and Thomas LaVoy. The pieces were conducted by choral alumni Arreon Harley-Emerson, Katie Geiger, Lauren Conrad, Melanie Mijares and Peter Solecki.
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Alumni conductors Peter Solecki (‘12 M.M), right, and Arreon Harley-Emerson (‘12 M.M.), left, with Paul Head at the School of Music 2012 Convocation.
Inviting these alumni to return as singers and conductors illustrates the musical growth students experience through their studies at UD and into their professional lives
Choral alumni also maintain their connection to UD, often participating in Delaware Choral Scholars summer programs, which combine UD students, alumni and community members for large-scale choral projects and tours.
We asked some of these alumni about their experiences as choral students and how they’ve translated the lessons they learned to their students, who are the latest generation of Paul Head’s pupils.
Being a member of the UD community helped me find myself as a choral conductor. While I had musical ideas, I struggled to express them. I can remember the very day that I "found" myself as a conductor. It was 11/11/11. Chorale was touring Northern New Jersey and we were at a Church in Morristown. Paul had thrown this really challenging, multi-meter piece, Moreten Lauridsen's "Amor, Io Sento L'alma," my way to conduct. While I had been conducting this piece for a few weeks and things were generally OK, something happened on 11/11/11. It was as if my hands finally became expressive tools. It was in that moment that my conducting gesture connected to both my head and my heart. It was a magical moment, one that I will never forget. And I will never forget seeing Paul watch as I conducted. It was a tender, emotional and supportive moment. Every year on November 11, I say little prayer for Paul and all of the beautiful souls that call themselves part of the University of Delaware Chorale Family.
Dr. Head has a unique ability to bring the most genuine, talented people together, and then to inspire those people to achieve things they never dreamed were possible. The bonds that are formed through the rehearsal process, the reaching for a common goal, and the dedicated time spent together sharing one's passion is rivaled by little else in this world. To this day many of my closest friends and colleagues are those I first met singing in choir, and many of those I met in my years as a graduate student singing with the UD Chorale.
Lauren Conrad (‘03 B.M., ‘05 M.M.) conducting The Dream mvt. iii. “And on far, fading hills…” by Thomas LaVoy at the May 6, 2023, concert.
Choral music has been my life, my professional life, my personal life, my passion and pride for the entirety of my adult career. I am so grateful for my experiences at the University of Delaware many, many years ago and now through the experiences of my students who are pursuing similar interests. I am a proud alum and thankful to Dr. Head for seeing in me what I did not initially see in myself. Dr. Head is the reason I became a teacher and the reason I will always be a teacher, no matter what my title.
UD is a place where not only students can grow musically, but personally as well. There is an opportunity to learn from first class faculty while also learning how to engage and interact with others who share a common passion for this amazing craft.
When I decided to become a music major, I knew nothing about UD's music department and was way out of my league compared to the other music majors there - I hadn't even been a choir kid in high school. But then I heard the UD Chorale and decided that I would work really hard in my voice lessons so that I could get into it. Once I got there, I was in Paul's “house” (we were new together, starting at UD within a year or two of each other). He created a home and a warmth that made me feel comfortable, a feeling I'd missed since arriving in Newark. I didn't know much, but I knew that Paul was on a train to someplace wonderful, and I wanted to go with him.
Being a part of Paul's Chorale was a defining moment in the entire trajectory of my life post-UD. I built a life of musical service to singers who often hover somewhere on the fringe of the community. My desire to work with a struggling population brought me to my first job on Long Island, where I met my husband. It brought me to smaller schools with smaller singer populations, and to a masters and eventually doctoral program that allowed me to engage my desire to improve instruction for young people.
Katie Geiger (‘13 B.M.) conducting The Dream mvt. ii. “The Dream” by Dan Forrest at the May 6, 2023, concert.
Choral music has been a part of my soul in more ways than I can describe. But more importantly are the mentors, people like Dr. Head, who have taught me what the impact of music-making can be on others.
In 2012 the UD Choral traveled to Debrecen, Hungary, for a worldwide competition. We had prepared an extremely difficult, odd piece titled “Ziles Zina.” During the competition Chorale was so engaged in our performance that even when a huge stage light from the ceiling burst in the middle of the song no one flinched or stopped singing. It was a very cool display of discipline and total engagement that summarized my experience in the UD Chorale with Dr. Head.
The UD Music Ed program is all encompassing. It is one of the only programs where you graduate as not only an educator, but a top performer in your craft. As someone who has had many student teachers from various education programs in the area, I can say with certainty that UD grads are often the most prepared for the classroom upon graduation.
Ashely Mathews formed life-long friendships as a Blue Hen: (from right) Brett Herskowitz (B.A. '14), Calvin Linderman (B.M.'14), Eric Ficarra (B.M.' 14), Jonathan Smith B.M. '14), Greg Smith, Ashley Mathews (B.M. '16) and Samantha Herskowitz (B.M. '16)
The UD Chorale performed David Childs’ "i thank you God" in this beautiful resonant cathedral during the ACDA Eastern conference. I remember feeling something palpable and magical in the air as we began to sing. The 6-minute piece ended with members of the ensemble with tears in their eyes and holding hands with one another. It was a perfect example of the humanity in what we do as choral musicians.
Choral music taught me teamwork, the importance of human connection, vulnerability, dedication, love, the list could go on. As a current high school choral music educator it's part of my teaching philosophy that our art form can really be used to educate the whole child, not just the musician.
The program at Delaware prepared me to pursue a career as a choral musician both in and outside the classroom. I firmly believe it is one of the best teacher and musician preparation programs in the country. The professors at the University care deeply about their students as people and their success when they leave, which is evident in the way they approach their educational practice.
Tom Kuchler’s (‘16, B.M.) former student Bridgett Baker ('23 B.M.), front row far right, performs with the UD Chorale during the May 6, 2023, anniversary concert.
The choral music program at UD prepares you for the human aspect of being a music teacher. The feeling I felt at UD as a prospective student was unmatched - it felt like a family from the very beginning. That extended into the choral program - I felt like a welcomed and valued member of the UD Chorale from the beginning, even as a freshman!
Kuchler himself is a second-generation choral alumni. His middle school choir teacher, Noah Mallitz, encouraged Kuchler to keep singing through high school.
As soon as he expressed interest in majoring in music education, we started talking about Delaware and the experience he'd have there. Because of my own time with Dr. Head and Dr. Dement, I knew Tom would love his years at UD and be a valuable member of the department.
Kuchler has maintained his connection to UD through regularly participating in Choral Scholars programs, and several of his former students are currently studying for degrees in choral/general music education: Kelly Kostigan, Alondra Gonzalez and Bridgett Baker.
From left: Meg Messina (Lavin) (‘00 B.M.), middle, with mentor Paul Head, right, and her former student, Nathan Bischoff (‘22 B.M.) during the summer 2022 Choral Scholars tour.
Numerous current students and recent alumni can trace their UD education to a recommendation from a high school music instructor who studied with Head. These “generations” of students and alumni are making an impact on music programs throughout the region.
Meg Messina gave me opportunities for meaningful and enriching musical experiences throughout high school. However, the biggest lessons she taught me had nothing to do with music. She gave me opportunities for leadership and creative problem solving; and opened my eyes to the true goal of being a music educator: We are not teaching to create great musicians, but great people. Once I visited UD and got to talk to their fantastic staff, I learned that teaching the whole student is a pillar of their music education philosophy as well. From that moment I knew University of Delaware could be a home for me, where I could become a better musician, teacher and human being.
Dr. Conrad’s level of sensitivity to emotional and personal connections to music, poetry, and the vulnerable act of singing, and how that was infused into her teaching philosophy is what drew me into the idea of being a musician for life. Her approach to teaching and her capability of curating a safe space to make music and simply engage with the human experience in an emotionally-freeing way inspired me to become a teacher myself. Knowing her roots to the University of Delaware, and having the opportunity to visit as a prospective student and meet students and professors like Dr. Head, I knew that UD would be a perfect place to find that choral home again that was founded for me in my high school classroom.
Not only did my high school teacher inspire me to pursue a music education, but also to follow in her footsteps in attending UD and being a member of the Deltones. Studying under her made all the difference in pursuing music as a major and career.
Mrs. Mathews inspired me to be the musician I am today. As cliché as it sounds, she made me want to be like her in the future. When I decided to be a music educator, I thought of the kind of director she was: passionate, caring, encouraging, connected, and the kind of director I wanted to be. It didn't take long for me to land on UD as my home for the next four years--as it was the place that helped her grow in these traits.
One of the main reasons that I chose to attend UD is because I wanted to one day get to the level of musical expertise that my high school choir director was at, so I thought the best way to do that would be learning from those who taught him. I was always so inspired by Mr. Kuchler’s teaching style, empathy for students and level of musical knowledge, and as a result, I am now learning in the same musical environment that he learned in as an undergraduate. I am so grateful for Mr. Kuchler and the lasting impact that he has left on me because I have enjoyed every minute of earning my UD degree and have developed such a passion for music education that I owe to him.
Your gift to the Paul D. Head Endowment for Choral Artistry supports choral activities and helps future generations of music students experience the transformative impact of UD's choral music legacy.
Hannah Andrews ('23 B.M.) performs at the Arts and Humanities Convocation on May 25, 2023. Andrews is a former student of music alum Lisa Anne Diver ('06 B.M.), music teacher at Roland Park Country School,