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ETSU Chorale returns from Llangollen music festival with success, great memories

Contributed • Jul 19, 2019 at 3:28 PM

The East Tennessee State University Chorale returned this week from Wales, United Kingdom, bringing home two first-place trophies and memories from the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.

The chorale placed first in both the Youth and Adult Folk Song Choir categories, and placed second in Mixed Choir. The ensemble’s first-place finishes qualified it to compete for the Choir of the World title, and while the Chorale did not win that  spot, its members and conductor Dr. Matthew Potterton, chairman of the ETSU Department of Music, said he is happy and proud of their accomplishments and thankful for the experiences they shared.

“For me, this trip meant everything,” said Gianni Loepke, president of the Chorale and a senior music education major from Clarksville. “I have never been outside of the country in such a beautiful place with such wonderful people. I’ve never been on a team or in a group that has competed, where I truly felt like every member of the group left it all on the stage or court, but that’s exactly what I got with the chorale this time.

“We may not have won every single event, but before the adjudications, every time, we definitely felt like we poured our heart and soul into the performance, and we won in our own minds, and that’s what really matters. I’ll never forget this experience and how it made me feel.”

Rachel Gardner, a junior music major from Jonesborough, agreed.

“Those performances were our best yet,” she said. “After every performance, we walked off stage crying and hugging each other, because we worked so hard for a year on our repertoire and that was the last time we would sing those songs as a choir.

“Next year’s chorale will contain different people and have a different sound, so it was just awesome to finally show the world what we could do as this particular group.

“And it paid off,” she said. “We didn’t win Choir of the World, but it was an honor to be there and we gave our best and were happy. The whole thing proved to us that we can achieve so much when we work hard and connect with each other, with our director, and to the music.”

Potterton, who enjoyed the Llangollen experience “from the other side” as a conductor after competing there twice as a college student, said the judges were highly complimentary of the Chorale’s programming, energy and emotion. The Chorale’s performances and success at Llangollen, he says, is also bringing positive recognition to ETSU.

“This particular competition is well known around the world, and the fact that we did so well is just helping get our name out there,” Potterton said. “I’ve gotten notes from various conductors both in the U.S. and internationally congratulating us.

“The students who went are incredible,” he said. “They represented the United States and ETSU beautifully.”

Jenni Dalton, executive aide in the Department of Music, accompanied the Chorale on the journey and echoed Potterton’s sentiments.

“They were representing way more than themselves and ETSU – there were only a few choirs from the United States, and there were people there from everywhere, and they represented well,” she said.

“It’s amazing to walk into another culture and see the similarities and differences between our culture and theirs,” said Kaitlyn Hopkins, a senior music major from Morristown. “I learned more about what it means to be an American in one week than I have in my entire life. I have a new pride for our country after singing our National Anthem in Wales on Independence Day.

“One cool experience included introducing a group of Malaysian girls to s’mores. We also sang for them, and they taught us one of the folk dances from Malaysia. I will definitely share my experience and what I learned for years to come!”

Potterton expressed appreciation to both the donors who helped make the trip to Wales possible and the community for its support.

“It was so awesome to have the community follow us on our Facebook page and send us congratulatory comments,” he said. “And we are very thankful to our donors, who donated money to allow this to happen — this can’t happen unless we have the money. Our students are not necessarily wealthy, and so having the donors make that possible was just great.”