My priority is to enable students to be both independent and collaborative in their music-making. I want them to feel that they’re actively participating in developing this phenomenal art form.

Beth Willer

Professor Beth Willer, music, expects her students to fully participate in the creative process. "I teach them to be excellent performers, but I also encourage them to ask questions about the repertoire — and I choose repertoires that force them to make decisions and ask questions," she says.

In her role as director of choral activities at Bucknell, Willer leads both the Bucknell Camerata and the Bucknell Chorale. "I'm especially interested in exposing students to progressive contemporary repertoire by living composers, and juxtaposing that with lesser-known and standard works of the choral canon, dating back to medieval manuscripts," she says. "By making connections between the ancient and new, sacred and secular, we will be able to bring our music to a larger audience."

The Camerata includes more concerted and secular works and is committed to the sacred a cappella tradition. "The challenge, and the opportunity, with choral music is that most of it was written for the church — but our music becomes relevant to more people when we present sacred and secular music side-by-side, pulling new meaning from both," she says.

For the Chorale, Willer sees collaboration with the Bucknell Orchestra and opportunities to explore new performance spaces on campus and beyond.

"It's important to me that both groups go out and perform in the community, each serving the campus in a unique way," she says, noting that singing has always been one of the most accessible and portable of art forms. "People sing in churches, basements and auditoriums," she says. "Students' experiences in these ensembles should prepare them for singing on any level, professional or amateur, in any community."

Willer's talent for leading choral ensembles was rewarded in 2014 when she received Chorus America's prestigious Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action & Entrepreneurial Zeal for her work as artistic director of Boston's Lorelei Ensemble, a nine-woman vocal group she founded in 2007.

She brings her expertise to the classroom in courses that range from Introduction to Music to an advanced seminar in chamber music that exposes students to improvisation, one-on-a-part performance, alternative vocal techniques and singing without a conductor. "My priority is to enable students to be both independent and collaborative in their music-making," she says. "I want them to feel that they're actively participating in developing this phenomenal art form."

Posted Oct. 7, 2015