BY JEREMY SHERE
Even if you’re not a music aficionado, if you live in Indiana you’re probably aware that the IU Jacobs School of Music is home to some of the brightest stars in the firmament of classical, jazz, and popular music. Joshua Bell, David Baker, Sylvia McNair, Menahem Pressler…the list goes on.
But what about Steve Zegree, Betsy Burleigh, Walter Huff, and Dominick DiOrio? If you don’t recognize those names, they’re worth knowing. They’re the newest members of the Jacobs School’s recently revamped Choral Conducting Department which is widely considered to be one of the better departments in the world.
“Choral conducting departments at other universities have two full-time faculty at the most, so having six [including Dean Gwyn Richards] really sets us apart and enables us to do things that most departments can’t,” says Department Chair William Jon Gray. “We’ve assembled a faculty that reflects the realities of the profession and embraces the idea that the choral conductors of the future need to have experience and opportunities working in many musical periods and genres.”
Zegree, who joined the Jacobs School in 2012 and took over direction of the Singing Hoosiers (a jazz, pop, and contemporary popular-music chorus), brings wide experience in jazz, while Huff specializes in operatic choruses. Burleigh and DiOrio contribute wide-ranging expertise in classical choral music, directing the University Singers choral ensemble and NOTUS: Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, respectively.
“There’s so much talent and energy here that you can dream up virtually anything you want and make it possible,” says DiOrio, who is also an award-winning composer and, at 29, the youngest member of the choral conducting faculty. “The school really encourages us to think about the future of the [choral conducting] profession by being creative.”
Burleigh is equally enthusiastic about the department and its potential for charting new paths in choral conducting. “It’s rare to have a group of conductors who support each other the way we do,” she says. “Because we’re all new, there’s no baggage. And with so many of us offering instruction in so many areas of choral arts, we can provide an amazing experience for our students.”