The University Record, November 9, 1992

Everything’s harmonious for Diversity Choir

By Mary Jo Frank

“We’re good enough this year. We’re going to do everything in harmony,” director James Nissen promises the choir as they launch into a few bars of Michael S. Burn’s “Family.”

Rehearsing for a Jan. 18 performance at the Business and Finance Department’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, members of the Diversity Choir are up to the challenge.

Approximately 35 choir members, coming from units across campus, have been rehearsing 3:30–5 p.m. on Tuesdays since mid-October at the Student Theater Arts Complex.

Organizer Mary Jo Huber, administrative assistant at University Stores, says the idea for a choir grew out of a workshop for business and finance staff that was conducted as part of the Michigan Mandate, the University’s blueprint for promoting diversity.

The choir brings together staff from a variety of job families who might not otherwise meet, Huber notes. Although anyone in the University community may join, the majority of the members are from business and finance units.

Nissen, who earned a doctorate in 1990 from the School of Music, has directed the choir since its beginning three years ago.

Exhorting the singers to “project the sound out of your eyes” and to “try to be light on your feet” as they hum warm-up scales, Nissen moves rehearsals along with humor, entertaining the entertainers.

Encouraging them to let their voices build on the crescendos, Nissen offers a tip: raise your eyebrows.

New singers can join the group until Thanksgiving, Nissen says. After that, it might be difficult to catch up.

The Diversity Choir’s repertoire this year includes “As Long As I Have Music,” “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” “Love Will Be Our Home,” and a new work, “Diversity Theme Song,” written by Brenda Byrd, collection interviewer in Financial Operations.

Byrd, a Diversity Choir member for three years, says the song is about the diversity process at the University. Once a music major in college, Byrd now directs a church choir.

Of the Diversity Choir, she says, “I would encourage anyone, whether musically inclined or not, to join. Number one, it is fun. It is an opportunity to get to know new people. Even when everyone can’t talk together or agree, we can still sing together.”

Tom Jameson, who retired as systems project coordinator in data systems in the Information Technology Division in 1991, originally joined the Diversity Choir because he heard they needed tenors. Jameson also sings in the Choral Union and a church choir.

“If people are interested in learning about singing, it is a good beginning,” Jameson says. “Jim is telling us the same things that I have been told by directors in the Choral Union and my private vocal teacher. What he is telling us is good information, which people are getting for free.”

For Donald L. Sims Jr., senior accountant in Financial Operations, singing with the Diversity Choir is an opportunity to honor King.

“The turn-out to hear us is better every year and we get more compliments. It makes you feel good to hear those comments,” Sims adds.

After only three weeks of rehearsal, Sims says the Diversity Choir already is sounding good.

Nissen, who is professor of humanities at Concordia College, agrees. “They sing up a storm.”