Culturally enriching and spiritually uplifting is how the charismatic concert choir director describes his ensemble. With his dedication and the choir’s hard work, they continue to manifest their mutual goal of educating African Americans on music through a diverse singing style.
Charlie J. Toomer, the choir’s director and a FAMU alumnus, has made tremendous improvements in the program.
Since his return to FAMU as an educator in the fall of ’99, the choir’s population has nearly tripled, and his work in recruitment continues to pay off.
Along with expanding the membership and adding a vocal jazz ensemble, Toomer has goals of expanding and developing choral majors, and hopes to bring a gospel music degree program to the university’s music department.
Choir members practice daily, but the long hours in no way taint the love they have for the choir.
“I don’t know what I’d do without the choir in my life,” said Oni Bryant, a sophomore music/theatre education student. “It keeps me grounded and gives me joy.”
The choir has graced audiences throughout the nation and around the world. They toured in Spain in 1994 and will be traveling to Alaska this April.
“Touring and traveling are two of the highlights to being a member in the choir,” said Nicole McCarty, a junior nursing student from Brandon.
“We are a talented group and touring gives us a chance to share our talent with others. When we sing we’ll touch audiences and we won’t even know it; sometimes we touch ourselves.”
The choir has been an established organization since 1952, under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Steele.
“She sought to musically enrich her students, and that tradition continues to lives on,” said Johnny Williams, the music department’s librarian and concert choir supporter.
Toomer desires to get African-Americans more exposed to classical music.
“Most black people are more into R&B and gospel, and think classical music is ‘white’ music,” he said. “Classical music isn’t ‘white music’.”
The choir will hold its annual Christmas Concert, its second concert of the semester, on Dec. 9 in Lee Hall.
Here, Toomer hopes to showcase the choir and an array of music to FAMU students and friends.
The choir will feature Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, which is a median between classical and gospel music.
The concert will also feature an arrangement by Marty Robinson entitled “Gloria.” The arrangement will include the choir as well as a brass quintet. Robinson is an assistant Jazz Studies professor at FAMU.
A composition of the choir’s songs was recorded on Oct. 2. The CD features the choir’s many styles and “comprises nearly 20 selections, with languages ranging from Spanish, to Latin and Swahili,” according to Leonard Horton III.
The CD can be purchased around early January 2002 in FAMU’s Foster-Tanner Music Building. Proceeds from the CD sale will go toward scholarship funds.
The choir is also raising money through fund-raisers such as a raffle that will land the winner a three-day cruise for two to the Bahamas, departing on Valentine’s Day.
With the choir’s hectic travel and rehearsal schedule, Toomer enforces good study habits and academic excellence.
“We have study hall once a week for the freshmen in the choir, and students who don’t uphold their GPA don’t get to travel,” Toomer said.
There are many more events scheduled for the choir, but the members don’t seem to get tired.
“The choir is a powerful and positive organization,” McCarty said.
“We’re one big family, and despite the schedule, spending time together is nothing less than a joy.”