A Full-throated Approach
Choral leader Beth Willer aims for total participation in the creative process
By Paula Franken
The questions Professor Michael James, political science,
asks his students to explore are sometimes challenging
— How do minority groups get their interests fairly
represented? What counts as fair representation? — but
James says discussing these questions helps students
learn to think critically and reflectively.
“In order to facilitate discussion across divergent or
conflicting perspectives, you must let people speak and
understand what they are thinking before you critique it,”
These subjects are debated thoroughly and openly in
James’ Race, Ethnicity and American Legal Thought class.
James argues that racial and ethnic identities, such as
African-American and Hispanic, are social constructions, yet
are still meaningful and have real effects on people’s lives.
James’ goal is for his students to think about where these
types of identities come
from. With these questions
explored, the conversation
can then move to policy
“I break each issue down
into three questions —
and morality,” he says.
“By giving students a
chance to see the best
arguments I can find that oppose each other, I expose
students to different viewpoints to allow them to construct
not an opinion, but a judgment — something that they can
understand and defend in light of empirical facts, history and
counterarguments.” — Matt Beltz
s director of choral
activities, Professor Beth
Willer, music, leads the
Choir and Camerata.
“I’m especially interested in exposing
students to progressive contemporary
repertoire by living composers and jux-
taposing those 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 specializes in the
performance of contemporary and early
repertoires, including concerted and
secular works, while remaining commit-
ted to the sacred a cappella tradition
that spans the last 10 centuries.
“The challenge, and the opportunity,
with choral music is that most of it was
written for the church — but music
becomes more relevant when we present
sacred and secular music side-by-side,
pulling new meaning from both,” she says.
The newly formed University Choir
is the cornerstone ensemble of the
choral program, performing a repertoire ranging from the 16th through
21st centuries. The ensemble performs
in venues across the country and the
globe, collaborating with vocal and
instrumental ensembles of diverse
musical backgrounds and repertoires.
“It’s important to me that both
ensembles 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,
in any venue — professional or ama-
teur, in any community.”
Willer brings her expertise to the
classroom in courses that range from
Arts Entrepreneurship to an advanced
seminar in chamber music.
“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.”
For more on Willer and her recent work on
Anthracite Fields, see Page 18. Follow
the University Choir’s global tour
@bucknelluchoirs on Instagram.