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Singing the praises of “the whole student”

Lehigh engineers shine on stage, in the stadium and in the orchestra pit

Since the 1920s, Lehigh University has maintained a campus-wide policy that avoids scheduling undergraduate courses between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm. This special time is reserved for students to pursue different types of challenges and provides a common window of opportunity for participation in programs such as arts, sports or community service.

So, at Lehigh—and few other top tier engineering institutions—it is not uncommon for engineering students, carrying the usual intensive course load, to appear in leading roles throughout the myriad arts programs the University maintains.

Yes, you read that correctly: Engineering students at Lehigh excel not only in the classroom, but on stage, in the stadium and in the orchestra pit.

In fact, according to Lehigh’s Department of Music, nearly 47 percent of the University’s choir major in engineering or a related interdisciplinary program.

Student soloists in Lehigh’s Choral Arts performance of “Crown Jewels” on October 27 are fine examples of the types of students nurtured on Lehigh’s sprawling South Mountain campus: No less than four are pursuing engineering studies.

In Lehigh’s October performances of “Crown Jewels,” Casey Durso ’20, Jillian Cowles ’20, Brian Logsdon ’19 and Chris Palmer ’17 showcased their buttery-smooth musical stylings. Soloists were backed by fellow members of the University’s student-only Choir as well as the Lehigh Choral Union, a vocal ensemble comprised of students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community.

Steve DeWeerth, professor and dean of Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, is a new member of the Choral Union. DeWeerth was excited to see such a vivid display of the University’s focus on educating the whole student.

“As Dean, my attention is typically focused on the research and academic accomplishments of the faculty and students in the Rossin College,” said DeWeerth. “These concerts were a wonderful reminder that the students in our College have gifts and talents that extend well beyond their engineering and computing majors. It was an honor to be a ‘back-up singer’ for these students in my first concert with the Choral Union.”

Jillian Cowles ’20

Since she was five years old, Jillian Cowles ’20 has been singing in the Connecticut-based semi-professional choral program, Chorus Angelicus. Through this organization she met Steven Sametz, a professor of music and director of Choral Arts at Lehigh. Cowles was performing “A Child’s Requiem,” a piece written by Sametz in memory of the Newtown shooting victims.

Sametz told Cowles that she could pursue both engineering and music at Lehigh, and encouraged her to audition to become a Choral Arts Scholar, an honor awarded to incoming first-years who show musical talent and skill in choral singing, which she eventually received.

“I was shocked because a lot of other schools didn’t encourage that type of integration,” said Cowles. “I had never before been told that I could do both. It’s unusual to find a music program of this caliber at such a technically-inclined university.”

Cowles was selected as a soloist for “Jubilate Deo” by William Walton during her last Choral Arts performance.

In addition to a major in chemical engineering, Cowles decided to minor in music. She said that engineering provides her with a stable career path that allows time to continue her involvement in music.

For Cowles, being involved in the University Choir relieves her from the stress of classes like physics, calculus and chemistry. It is a big time commitment, she said, but doable with good time management skills.

“It also reminds me why I am at Lehigh, when the engineering gets tough,” said Cowles. “It is a constant reminder of what I am working for and that one day I will be just as good an engineer as I am musician if I keep working hard.”

Cowles is also involved with InterVarsity, a Christian fellowship on campus, the engineering sorority Alpha Omega Epsilon and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She is also a work-study student for the music library at Zoellner Arts Center.

Brian Logsdon ’19

Brian Logsdon ’19 has been singing for as long as he can remember. When he was younger he performed in musicals, but his focus has shifted to choral singing. Though he enjoys performing, with a major in Lehigh’s unique integrated Computer Science and Business program he doesn’t imagine himself pursuing the lifestyle of a professional performer.

“I love math and science,” said Logsdon, “and it's much easier for me to imagine being a computer scientist that performs on the side than it is to imagine being a professional performer who codes on the side.”

During one of his visits to Lehigh before matriculating, Logsdon had the opportunity to sit in on a Glee Club rehearsal, which is the men’s choir. The choirs at Lehigh are on a higher level than those he was involved with at home, he said, which made him eager to join the program upon coming to Lehigh.

“The University Choir is one big family that is very welcoming from the very first rehearsal,” said Logsdon. “I was pretty nervous about being in a new place, but the choir made me feel right at home.”

Logsdon performed “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from “The Pirates of Penzance” during the Choral Arts performance.

The Choral Arts group rehearses for about six to seven hours a week, which does not include individual practices outside of regular rehearsals. Logsdon credits his time management skills and optimization of extra time between classes and on the weekends to his success in campus pursuits outside of engineering.

Logsdon is also an Orientation Leader and the music director for Off the Record, one of Lehigh’s co-ed a cappella groups.

“I know that the arts will always be a part of my life,” said Logsdon. “Whether it's performing with a community choir or just in the shower, I'm sure I'll find a way to keep singing.”

Chris Palmer ’17

Chris Palmer ’17 had absolutely no intention of singing in a choir when he arrived at Lehigh. However, after senior members of his a cappella group convinced him to audition for the Choir in the spring of his freshman year, he found his Lehigh experience would never be the same.

“I came to Lehigh only wanting to study engineering, but now I will be receiving two bachelor's degrees when I graduate—one in civil engineering and one in music,” said Palmer. “The Choral Arts program helped fuel my passion for music.”

Palmer performed a saxophone solo on the piece “Fantasia on Call to Remembrance.”

For Palmer, the Zoellner Arts Center has become a second home where he could sing for four hours a week to forget his stress. Choral Arts program, he said, keeps him honest with his work for his engineering degree—his demanding rehearsal schedule requires him to be proactive in completing coursework.

Palmer said the choir has become an integral part of his life on campus, and his choral arts family allows him to create music alongside people with whom he shares a personal connection.

“The choir has given me so much more than I ever expected when I auditioned four years ago,” said Palmer. “I found a group of people that accepts everyone, and supports each other in a way that seems rare today.”

Throughout his time at Lehigh, Palmer has been involved several music-related extracurricular activities in addition to Off the Record. The list includes The Marching 97 band, the Jazz Orchestra, the Choir, the Glee Club and the Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also been involved in Greek life and orientation.

After graduating, Palmer knows he’ll keep music in his life and hopes to someday pursue a part-time career conducting a choir.

Casey Durso ’20

When Casey Durso ’20 was a senior in high school, Steven Sametz invited her extracurricular choir, Princeton Girlchoir, to sing with Choral Arts in his piece, “A Child’s Requiem.”

Although Lehigh University was already on her radar as a top engineering school, she said working with talented and welcoming musicians at Lehigh really set the school apart from others.

Durso, a bioengineering major, added that the overwhelming sense of community within the Choral Arts program made the transition into a university setting easier than she anticipated.

“Choral Arts at Lehigh has given me a musical community that I can call family without hesitation,” said Durso. “Many of my closest friends are all in choir, and a group of choir girls are all living together off campus next year—as if spending all of our rehearsal time together weren’t enough!”

During the October 27 Choral Arts performance, Durso sang Mabel's solo in “Poor Wandering One” from “Pirates of Penzance.”

To balance her busy engineering schedule with the demanding Choral Arts group, Durso said she has to be smart with her time and often completes course assignments between rehearsals.

She said that while bioengineering demands a sense of urgency for discovery, music provides her the perfect outlet for another type of creativity and reflection.

Durso is a member of the a cappella group Lehigh Melismatics, St. Anne’s Church Choir and Dolce, a Choral Arts-affiliated ensemble. After she graduates, Durso hopes to join a community choir and remain connected to Lehigh Choral Arts through its events and performances.

-Danielle Bettermann '18 is a student writer with the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and the Deputy Lifestyle Editor for The Brown and White.

-Rebecca Wilkin '18 is a student writer with the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and Managing Editor for The Brown and White.

November 7, 2017

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