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Catawba Alumnus Directs 100-Year-Old Choral Society

December 10, 2010

Category: Academics, Alumni, Music


By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service

NewtonYou'd think a 23-year-old might be intimidated about directing a choir that's 100 years old.

There's a lot to be said for youthful enthusiasm.

Matt Newton, a 2010 graduate of Catawba, took the reins of the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society this summer. The society is a century old this year.

Newton graduated from high school in Raleigh and came to Catawba as a theatre major, but soon found out it wasn't for him. He saw the music program begin to bloom when Professor Paul Oakley, Catawba's Artist-in-Residence in Music, came on board. Newton eventually became a sacred music major with a concentration in voice performance, and sang at First United Church of Christ in Salisbury for his internship. While there, he served as guest director for Dennis Jewett.

NewtonAs a result, Newton became the first student at Catawba to conduct his own senior recital, directing the Chamber Singers. "That was, like, one of the coolest experiences I've ever had," Newton says. Newton was filling in for Jewett this summer when he heard of the opening at the choral society. He's adding directing duties in addition to working full-time at the Rowan County Board of Elections, teaching voice lessons, and serving as assistant director at First UCC.

After each rehearsal, Newton spends time thinking about what areas of improvement he wants to address at the next rehearsal. "My theory is that, if I can get them worked up and excited, the learning curve goes through the roof," Newton says.

That's why he begins each rehearsal with plenty of vocal exercises and warm-ups.

"I want to be energized and focused on making the best use of our time," he says. "I'm nitpicky. I don't let them do it wrong."

Whatever he's doing must be working. "I think he's charmed some of the older women," says Lydia Price, a recent Catawba grad who's a member of the society.

"We couldn't be more thrilled," says Micah Ennis, the choir's president. "He seems to relate to everybody. He seems to have a lot of wisdom for his years.

"I've really been impressed with the way he's tried to meet everybody where they are. He has energy and excitement and a real passion for music. He's very organized. He's got a plan. I hope he likes us as much as we like him."

NewtonThe 35-member group will present its Christmas concert on Dec. 17 at Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on the Catawba College campus. Newton plans three concerts for the year.

Not only does he want to teach music theory, he says, he wants the choir members to understand what they are singing. He takes the time to talk about the text.

Newton is excited about the possibility of adding younger members. "I want this to be a community effort," he says of the choral society. "That's how I think it would best serve its function."

Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.


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