Willamette Singers achieve global recognition through DownBeat award

by University Communications,

For the second straight year, DownBeat magazine has recognized the outstanding talent of a Willamette University choral group.

The magazine’s June issue features its 38th annual Student Music Awards, which honor the Willamette Singers, a 17-member vocal jazz group, as Best Undergraduate Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

For Choral Director Wallace Long, the award is a testament to the maturity and competence of Willamette’s music program.

“Winning the DownBeat award is incredibly validating,” he says. “It proves that last year was not a fluke. To have our work selected by professionals in the field is the highest honor our program can achieve.”

DownBeat awards are given to students and student groups from middle schools, high schools and universities from around the world. Professional musicians and educators judged audio submissions on such qualities as musicianship, creativity, improvisation and technique.

The Willamette Singers submitted music performed for their latest CD, “Love, My Old Friend,” which includes four compositions and one arrangement by Matt Sazima ’14, winner of DownBeat magazine’s Best Jazz Arrangement award last year.

Madison Hall ’16, a Spanish and music double major, has performed with the Willamette Singers for three years. For her, the award validates the ensemble’s hard work and dedication.

“As student musicians, we’ve committed loads of time and effort to reach this point,” she says. “It feels incredible, though slightly surreal, to have been honored by DownBeat two years in a row.”

For Hall, much of the group’s success can be attributed to Long, whose expertise has earned much-deserved admiration and respect.

“Dr. Long is an incredible leader, director, musician and mentor who has dedicated countless hours to the betterment of the Willamette Singers,” she says. “He definitely deserves this win.”

Thomas Shipley ’15 agrees, adding that Long gives his heart and soul to the choir program.

“Winning this award once was a miracle, so winning it twice is absolutely mind-blowing,” says Shipley, who is earning a bachelor of music in contemporary improvisation. “It couldn't have been done without Dr. Long. He just has a way of making people great.”

The Willamette Singers have received many honors during the 32 years Long has directed the group. Besides the DownBeat awards, recognition has come in the form of honorific performances at regional and national conventions of the Oregon Music Educators Association, Music Educators National Conference, the American Choral Directors Association and the International Association of Jazz Educators.