Dr. Cameron LaBarr is the director of choral studies at Missouri State University and leads the MSU Chorale. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

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Final exams may be over for the spring semester, but a group of 48 Missouri State University students still have a few lessons awaiting.

In South America.

Until May 27, the MSU Chorale will tour Chile and Argentina, performing seven concerts in high-profile venues.

Missouri State University Chorale members Destiny Romero (left to right), Addison Collins, Miles Stamper and Erich Eastman rehearse in May in preparation for a tour to South America. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“The fundamental lesson for us, I think, is that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to express ourselves through art — in our case music — we will then have a deeper understanding of ourselves,” said conductor Cameron LaBarr. “And especially of people who are not like us.”

The chorale is comprised of 48 singers in the university’s choral studies department. It presents selections that feature advanced techniques and difficulty — the chorale requires an audition for membership. It also includes LaBarr and pianist Parker Payne.

It is MSU’s flagship traveling choir, LaBarr said. It frequents concerts organized by groups such as the American Choral Directors Association and National Collegiate Choral Association. It has performed for gubernatorial and presidential inaugurations, and has been invited to perform by prestigious choral groups around the world.

Jan Veljak (left) rehearses in May with the MSU Chorale. There are 48 people selected for Missouri State University’s Chorale each year. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Over the last decade, the MSU Chorale has performed in China, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Iceland and South Korea. It also records albums regularly with Soundmirror, a Grammy-winning studio based in Boston.

The South American tour will make a great change of pace for the choir, LaBarr said. It has concerts planned at the Salon Dorado in Buenos Aires, as well as the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba.

At Cordoba, the chorale will be part of a chamber music-style program, and will also join with an orchestra to present the debut of a piece called “Nights in Argentina” by American composer William Averitt.

Missouri State University’s Chorale is the advanced choir group that performs in concerts and tours throughout the year. Dr. Cameron LaBarr, the director of choral studies, leads them. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The singers have been working throughout the year on a repertoire of pieces that represent several cultures across the world, in addition to South America and the United States, LaBarr said. It includes pieces from Irish composer Michael McGlynn and an Aramaic setting of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

South American selections include a choral tango called “El Ultimo Café” and two pieces by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino that will feature Payne’s proficiency on piano, LaBarr said.

The chorale will present historic and contemporary pieces from the United States, including spirituals and folk music, as well as a choral arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

It will even feature the work of a student. Chorale member and guitarist Erich Eastman wrote an original piece for the tour.

Pianist Parker Payne accompanies the MSU Chorale during a May rehearsal. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The biggest challenge of learning the program dealt with all the gear changes, LaBarr said. The chorale worked up a similar lineup of songs from South Korea for February concerts in that country.

“They are always up for every single challenge that is offered,” LaBarr said. “It’s really an incredible group of people with the utmost tenacity and positive spirit.”

LaBarr said there is a lot for students to learn from South American musical stylings. The collaborations with other choirs will be invaluable, LaBarr said.

After each concert, the Missouri State students will be able to tackle details such as specific pronunciations of words depending in what part of the continent they perform, and the unique rhythms they feel. In a Venezuelan piece, for instance, chorale members imitate the sounds of percussion instruments.

Dr. Cameron LaBarr is the director of choral studies at Missouri State University. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

LaBarr can’t wait to talk to the singers throughout the trip and find out what they pick up, he said. Now that the chorale is on the journey, the only lessons its members will have are the ones they experience themselves — not only in concerts, but in outdoor adventures such as a hike across Chile and either zip lining or whitewater rafting.

“Every single concert is another opportunity for us to learn and grow,” LaBarr said. “We are doing all these concerts, of course, but we are also taking time out of these trips to make sure we understand where these people are from and what does their natural environment look like.”

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Hauxeda. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or jhadsall@hauxeda.com. More by Joe Hadsall