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Harris Gessner, at right, conducts the Mixed Choir from James Clemens High School during their invitation performance at the University of Alabama Honor Choir Festival. CONTRIBUTED

James Clemens Choir featured at UA Honor Choir Festival

MADISON – Students in the Mixed Choir at James Clemens High School received a high honor as invited guest performers for the 32nd annual University of Alabama Honor Choir Festival in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 27-28.

Each year, the university extends this invitation of merit to only one high school choir in the state. “This invitation is recognition of the James Clemens Choral Music Department’s reputation for excellence,” concert organizers said.

Harris Gessner serves as Choir Director at James Clemens.

The festival opened with a private clinic led by Dr. Ronald Staheli as Honorary Choir Clinician. For 30 years, professor emeritus Staheli has conducted the Brigham Young University Singers, one of the most respected choirs in the United States.

Students reported to rehearsals throughout the weekend in Moody Concert Hall at UA.

The University Singers presented an hour-long voice ‘mini-recital’ on Oct. 28, and UA students presented a demonstration of organ music. High schoolers enrolled in the clinic presented their finale concert that evening.

For their featured concert, James Clemens sang for hundreds of students and families from across the region. Their program included “My Soul, There Is a Country” by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry; “Only in Sleep” by Eriks Esenvalds; and “We Shall Walk Through the Valley of Peace” by Moses Hogan.

In addition, the James Clemens vocalists visited other choirs at Hoover High School and the University of Montevallo, according to Terri Lovett, publicity vice president for James Clemens Choir.

Mixed Choir is James Clemens’ flagship four-part ensemble (for soprano, tenor, alto and bass voices) and is open to both male and female singers. Since 2015, the choir has grown exponentially and earned numerous accolades from adjudicators at state and national performance assessments.

In recent months, James Clemens Choir received notoriety with performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Alabama Musical Educator Association’s Convention.

A Madison native and graduate of Bob Jones High School, Gessner earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal studies at Auburn University and a master’s degree in choral conducting at Emory University. Gessner serves as Artistic Director of Alabama Voices, a statewide choir for music educators and professionals.

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