Published on July 31, 2019 by Ashley Smith  
A Cappella Choir, photo courtesy of Eleanor Stenner Photography

Founded at Howard College in 1939, ten years prior to a music degree existing at Samford, the A Cappella Choir has been a flagship ensemble at Samford for eight decades. Its success is attributed to the dedicated directors and students who are not only part of the School of the Arts but also members pursuing degrees across Samford’s campus. There have been six directors since its origin: Kathleen Martinson, George Koski, Gene Black, Milburn Price, Timothy Banks and, currently, Philip Copeland.

The current choir is numbered around 36-40 in order to meet the requirements of international competitions. The collective awe-inspiring voices perform monthly choral vespers in Hodges Chapel as well as annual fall and spring concerts. Visitors also enjoy the choir at graduations and other major campus events. The choir has regularly embarked on international and regional tours since the tenure of Koski, who also started the tradition of ending performances with “Beautiful Savior.”

According to Copeland, “It is more than a choir and not quite a cult!” This close group practices every day and participates in weekly devotionals where students can share worship with each other. “Participants strive for excellence and to be the best version of themselves,” said Copeland. “I feel fortunate to work with them because they inspire me to do my best work.”

Nathan Peace, a junior music and worship major, has been part of the choir for three years and said this of his choir peers, “Their musicianship is unmatched, they love one another in a contagious way, and I am better because of their presence in my life.” Junior Emma Dry echoed the same enthusiasm and noted the spiritual aspects. “One of the most beautiful practices of choir is our monthly vespers services. I always find that a vespers service comes along exactly when I need to be reminded of God’s divine mercy and power.”

Alumnae member Eleanor Stenner offered praise for Copeland, “I cannot say enough about the genius of Dr. Copeland. He really listens to his students, gives them leadership opportunities, picks music that forces members to rise to the challenge, yet still creates a really fun atmosphere that fosters relationships.”

Recent highlights include joint concerts with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, performances at the prestigious American Choral Directors regional conference, singing at college day at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church and winning top honors in international competitions, most recently at the Laurea Mundi Budapest Choral Competition. The choir won first place in three categories: mixed choirs, musica sacra and folk-pop-spirituals and took home the Grand Prix.

This fall, A Cappella Choir alumni are invited to join together to celebrate the incredible memories and experiences of this ensemble during Homecoming weekend Nov. 8-9. Copeland has programmed favorites from previous decades to be part of the celebration. According to 2003 music education major and A Cappella alum Jonathan Rodgers, “The A Cappella Choir was a family.” He is impressed with the current choir and hopes that the choir will continue to stay “rooted in its Samford history while staying relevant.”

Dean Gene Black’s wife, Faye, affectionately known as Mama Faye, who was also a choir member, encourages all alumni to make this a true homecoming.

Mark your calendars today for the A Cappella Homecoming to share your memories. ◗

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.