Chamber Choir tours Argentina

Students experience South American culture performing at world-class concert halls

When the students in the Portland State Chamber Choir stepped off the plane in Argentina, this August, they weren’t sure what to expect. The choir had never toured in South America, and many of the members had never before left the United States.

Two weeks later they had performed four concerts for delighted crowds in Chile and Argentina, competed in an international choral festival, and experienced the rich cultural heritage of the region.

The tour was a homecoming for alto Alejandra Blech MA ’18, who grew up in the mountain town of San Juan, Argentina, where the competition was held.

Blech organized much of the tour, eager to share Argentina’s musical traditions with the choir. “I’m so proud of the Chamber Choir, I wanted to show off my country to them, and show off the choir to my country,” she says.

The 40 PSU singers rode a cable car to the mountaintop statue of the Virgin Mary in Santiago, Chile; met PSU alumni in Argentina; explored historic Buenos Aires; and broke out in a post-empanada dance party with fellow choirs in San Juan.

And of course, they sang. At one concert, the crowd of over 500 would not stop applauding—after the very first song. The choir thrilled 800 worshipers at an evening mass, performing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” In Buenos Aires, they sang in the palatial Teatro Colón, one of the finest concert halls in the world.

The Chamber Choir placed second among 13 other choirs at the San Juan Canta International Choral Festival, behind a stellar women’s chorus from Cordoba, Argentina.

The energy was extraordinary, says Dr. Ethan Sperry, PSU's Barre Stoll Director of Choral Activities. “Attending an international competition is life-changing and career-changing,” he says. “Each culture uses the human voice differently. On tours like these, students learn things about vocal performance that they could never be taught at home.”

Chamber Choir excels in international competitions. They were the first American choir to take the grand prize at the 2013 Seghizzi International competition in Gorizia, Italy, and won the grand prize at the 2017 Bali International Choral Festival. “The Doors of Heaven,” their 2017 recording of the music by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, topped the Billboard charts—a first for any university choir.

Hear the Portland State Chamber Choir at their first concert of the season, "Gender Bender," November 9 & 11 at First United Methodist Church.  More Info here.

--Suzanne E.W. Gray, College of the Arts