Choir alumni celebrate their community of music

by Jennifer Johnson,

Former Willamette singers return to campus for a special reunion and a remarkable professor.

The Willamette alumni singers differed in age, geographic location and learning style, but they shared the same goal — to sing well for a man who always inspired their best.

Generations of former Chamber Choir, Willamette Singers and University Choir members traveled from near and far back to campus in November to attend the 35th choir reunion, which honored Professor of Music Wallace Long’s 35th year at the university. 

“It was humbling to see all these talented alumni back for the reunion,” says Long. “I am amazed at how their musical experiences at Willamette have served them well in their lives beyond this place. I am still walking on clouds from the musical and emotional high.”

The returning alumni, including some who hadn’t sung since they graduated, rehearsed for nearly two full days before a concert Nov. 4 at Hudson Hall. Current members of the Willamette Singers and Chamber Choir joined them to perform songs including “Nunc Dimittis” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” the first songs taught to Chamber Choir students.

Committed to students

Alumni were committed to providing a stellar performance as a way to respect Long, whose high standards and passion defined their musical experience at Willamette.

Jeff Baker ’01 traveled back to Salem from Boise, Idaho, where he’s a professional jazz vocalist. “What makes Wallace so special is that he’s a world-class conductor but an even better human being,” says Baker, a former Willamette assistant conductor who also sang in all three choirs. “He cares so deeply about every single student.”

Over the years, Long has supported countless students through their studies and beyond. Yet, his memory of those students endures the test of time. Kathy Cook Wraith ’85 MBA ’86 remembers attending the University Choir and Willamette Singers concert tour with her family seven years ago in California. She made eye contact with Long during the concert, and recalls that, even though she hadn’t seen him in decades, “he immediately came tearing out at intermission and said, ‘Kathy! How are you?’”

Good musicians and citizens

Long encourages students to be great professionals and good citizens, qualities that draw students to him and inspire them to stay in choir. Chris Foot ’03, who sang in two Willamette choirs, specifically chose the university’s choir program because of Long.

A former chemistry major, Foot appreciated that the university allowed non-music majors to participate in programs. This opportunity served him well — he and his wife, Jennifer (Asbury) ’02 MAT ’03, met through Willamette Choir and sang professionally for several years, including with the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus and the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus. Whenever they moved, they always found a community through music.

Foot and his wife traveled from Houston to attend the reunion, which drew at least 150 former students. The strong turnout was a testament to Long’s impact.

As Foot says, “You can see the impression he leaves on people even to this day.”

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