Davis instills passion for music through University Black Chorus


Shutian Xu

Dr. Davis leads the chorus on November 15, 2015. In 2015, Dr. Davis received a key to Champaign from former Mayor Don Gerard for her musical contributions.

By Simon Tiffin

These are just some of the words one might hear if they ever encounter Davis in their time at the University. These words define how she lives.

“When students walk into my classroom, I want them to experience me, and I want them to be better,” she said.

From her 1990 debut in Carnegie HallAG, her 2008 recognition as a University Scholar AGand her 2015 reception of the key to the city of Champaign,AG Davis has appeared in many of the nation’s great concert halls. Internationally, she has appeared with orchestras and for master classes in Venezuela, Mexico and many other locations.AG

Davis recalls chatting with a clarinet soloist of an orchestra she was touring with in Venezuela.

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    “He was sort of shy and not very comfortable with English, but the night after our fifth performance, I can remember him saying to me, ‘You sing for God,’ and that was probably the highest compliment I have ever received,” she said. “I was touched that he had stepped out of his comfort zone to compliment me in my own language.”

    Davis has been able to harness and utilize these many experiences to give each student who walks into her classroom a varied and unique experience. Black Chorus member Landen RosenbloomAG, also a sophomore in FAA, said he is greatly affected by Davis.

    “I love working with her. She’s such a passionate conductor, and her ability to draw emotion from her ensemble is truly awe-striking,” he said.

    One interesting feature of Black Chorus is that nearly everything is learned by earAG. Davis takes a melody, sings it to a section with all of the inflection, dynamics and nuances she intends, and then has members of the ensemble repeat it back to her as many times as necessary until it is done right by every person.

    There is generally no formal sheet music handed out to the students as it is all passed down orally,AG just as many Black American spirituals were passed down orally and aurally throughout history.AG

    “A sense of community and unity is essential to this ensemble,” Davis said. “The whole represents the individual, and the individual represents the whole.”

    Davis wants to be dedicated to her students and each of their styles.

    “You have to be attentive to the learning styles of students. Truly study each student and do your best to have a wide and diverse repository of teaching methods,” she said. “You want to take time to get know each and every one of your students and make them feel valued. I teach people music, I don’t just teach music to people.”

    This personal philosophy is one of the many factors which differentiates Black Chorus from other ensembles on campus, according to Rosenbloom.

    “Black chorus isn’t just an ensemble,” he said. “It’s a family, and it’s because of the environment (Davis) creates and encourages that we have such community.”

    Barrington Coleman, director of Men’s Glee Club and professor of voiceAG, appreciates Davis’ attention to detail as a performer and educator.

    “Her ability to take her experience and apply it in her teaching makes the experience real and vitalizing for students,” Coleman said.

    The group will be holding a concert on Saturday, April 9th at 7:30 p.m. in Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center of the Performing ArtsAG. The program, centered around a theme of crowns, contains many diverse works speaking of and symbolizing crowns, royalty, and kingdoms.

    The concert —or offering, in Davis’s words— serves as a tribute to mothers.

    “I want the whole audience swaying, singing and dancing by the end of this,” she said. “It should be an all-inclusive and all-encompassing experience between audience and singers.”

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