USF AVoice4Peace Invitational Brings Together Local Schools for Peace Awareness Concert

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Ruthie Nelson claps with the HCC Concert Chorus as she directs the ensemble on stage of the USF Music Concert Hall

USF music alumna and director of choral studies at HCC Ruthie Nelson directs the HCC Concert Chorus at the USF AVoiceForPeace Invitational.

The AVoice4Peace Invitational at the USF School of Music Concert Hall brought seven middle, high school, and college choirs together for an evening of choir music in observance of the U.N.'s International Day of Peace on September 21.

As part of the global AVoice4Peace peace awareness project, the USF Invitational united student choirs to talk and sing about peace in a sold-out concert.

USF music education doctoral student and interim director of choral studies Morgan Burburan organized the event. She took special care to ensure the concert has a lasting impact on the performers, audience members, and volunteers involved.

"What I worked on with the students and also the audience is 'what does [peace] look like? What does that mean? How can we put action to the concept of peace?'" said Burburan.

The day began with students from four counties in the Tampa Bay area arriving at the School of Music in the early afternoon.

Schools participating in the event included Newsome High School, Clearwater High School, Fox Chapel Middle School, Wiregrass Ranch High School, Fort Meade Middle-Senior High, Hillsborough Community College (HCC), and the University of South Florida.

Members of the local chapter of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) met with students to discuss peace, play games, and write songs.

Students gained perspective by watching the trailer for the documentary on the AVoice4Peace project, a collaboration between the Festival Singers of Florida and the Nairobi Chamber Chorus. The documentary covers the international musical collaboration and the first-ever AVoiceForPeace concert held in 2016.

Between rehearsals, students had the opportunity to tour the School of Music and USF campus with some of the twenty USF choir students volunteering at the event.

"They were absolutely amazing, hardworking, and exhausted at the end of the day," said Burburan.

At the door, attendees brought nonperishable food items per the event's suggested donation. Collections went to the USF Feed-A-Bull program, an initiative that provides supplemental food to USF students in need.

Ruthie Nelson stands on stage working with AVoice4Peace singers at the USF Concert Hall

Morgan Burburan rehearses with students during the AVoice4Peace Invitational at USF.

Programming for the concert centered on the theme of peace.

The Festival Chorus, a combined ensemble of the 300 singers participating in the concert, opened the program with gospel and Civil Rights Movement anthem "We Shall Overcome."

The USF Chamber Singers performed Jake Runestad's "Let My Love Be Heard," a piece that developed new meaning after a memorable recording by a California State University choir in remembrance of Nohemi Gonzalez, a Cal State student killed in the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Another meaningful highlight of the night was Hillsborough Community College's performance of "Dubula," a song from South Africa during the time of apartheid in the nation. Ruthie Nelson, director of choral studies at HCC, reminded her students in rehearsals how the anti-apartheid movement was only successful through peaceful and nonviolent civil resistance.

The festival chorus ended the night with "Ukuthula," the signature anthem of the AVoice4Peace project and the Nairobi Chamber Chorus.

The success of the AVoice4Peace Invitational at has special meaning to Burburan, who spent this past summer gathering data for her dissertation and visiting choirs in Kenya, home of the AVoice4Peace founder Ken Wakia and his ensemble the Nairobi Chamber Chorus.

Amidst hardship, she was touched by the people of Kenya.

"It was hard to be there and hear some of the stories the people have to face. But what was beautiful were the people," said Burburan. "They were incredibly resilient and kind and generous."

She saw everything from the dance-infused Nairobi Music Festival for young students to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.

There, she witnessed the power of music in a visit to the Magoso School, a primary school that embraces the arts to help children impacted by violence in the slum. Burburan witnessed the teacher-supported environment that uses music to bring peace to over 500 students.

"We got to spend the day with them and sing with them and sing for them and have them perform for us," said Burburan. "Life changing. That's what music for all means to me."

Burburan says the experience showed her how the meaning behind music can be more important than simply the musical and technical precision of performers.

The AVoice4Peace Invitational at USF and Burburan's recent experiences across the globe demonstrate how people coming together to share in music, whether in Kenya or the USF Concert Hall, can have transformative effects on all involved.

"Afterwards I had a gentleman say to me that this was the best concert he'd ever been to," said Burburan. "I said 'thank you' and he said, 'No, no, I mean it. This was very special, this was very moving.' He really wanted to reiterate that."

Learn more about AVoice4Peace.

Banner photo (top): Students rehearse in the USF choral rehearsal hall before the USF AVoice4Peace Invitational concert.