When a group of former Commonwealth Singers first met in July 2008 to discuss the idea of a reunion concert, they wanted it to be more than an opportunity for them to perform together again.
They also wanted to make a difference in the education of current Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Music students.
“We really had two goals,” says B.J. Barlow (B.A. ’05/School of the Arts), reunion concert committee member and minister of music at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va. “One, just to get together and sing again, remember the old days, and experience wonderful music as a group. Second, we wanted to give back to VCU Music.”
After weeks of rehearsal, both goals came to fruition. About 30 of the choral group’s alumni — including one member who traveled from New York — performed in a Feb. 8 concert at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. The 400-member audience helped raise nearly $3,000 for the Friends of VCU Music Scholarship Fund.
“It was a very emotional, wonderful evening,” says Kimberly Shepherd Hassmer (B.M. ’06/School of the Arts), reunion concert committee member and music specialist at Salem Church Elementary School in Chesterfield County, Va. She joined the stage with her husband, David Hassmer (B.A. ’06/School of the Arts).
“The Commonwealth Singers is where we met, so it was nice to go back and sing on the stage with him and remember that part of us being together,” she says.
Another familiar face on stage was John Guthmiller, Ph.D., Department of Music chair and director of choral activities. Guthmiller says he found the alumni’s commitment to the performance and the music department inspiring.
“That’s the kind of thing you hope for when you’re teaching them at age 18, 19 — to see that growth and development for them,” he says.
Guthmiller helped the committee select 11 songs for the concert, which also included three pieces by the current Commonwealth Singers and a powerful performance of “Virginia” presented by both groups.
The concert reminded the alumni of what they loved most about their time at VCU.
“Dr. Guthmiller’s way of directing, pulling the group together, rehearsing — he drew out more than notes on a page but created a family,” Barlow says.
For Hassmer, the performance reinforced her desire to stay involved with her alma mater. She recently became a member of the VCU Music Alumni Board and hopes the first-time concert event becomes a tradition.
“I love VCU and I’m very proud to be a Ram,” she says. “After the concert, we all said ‘When can we do this again?’”