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Music majors sing their way through final exams

Panicked students flip through notes in a last-ditch effort to absorb the material. The only open seat is in the middle of the normally-spacious 400-person lecture hall. That tiny foldable desk is where it happens — the final exam.

This is standard for most students come finals time — except for music students. 

Their exams are taken in grand auditoriums with chandeliers and cushioned seats. An audience applauds them when they're done. Their exams are performances, nothing more and nothing less. 

"All of our exams are public,” said Jeff Fuchs, co-chairperson of the music department's Undergraduate Scholarship Committee. “That’s the nature of making music. It would be like a Math 100 class standing up and doing their problems aloud.” 

Friday's Scholarship Benefit Concert, put on by the UNC Chamber Singers and the Carolina Choir, promises to be more entertaining than math problems.  

"It's the culmination of our semester's work," Carolina Choir Director Susan Klebanow said. "So we're all very excited to show our months of work." 

This concert is just one of the 18 concerts the music department hosts to benefit undergraduate scholarships. The proceeds from the concerts benefit upwards of 75 students and help attract new talent every year. 

Several of these students are in the Carolina Choir today.

“The department makes a great effort all year to support students who need scholarships," Klebanow said. "And several of those are in our choir.”

The focus of tonight's concert is the Theresa Mass, which includes well-known hymns like "Gloria" and "Kyrie." 

“The heightened setting is particularly beautiful,” Klebanow said. “The orchestration is also stunning and will be played by our Chamber Orchestra.”

The Chamber Orchestra comprises 20 musicians, and the Carolina Choir has 60 performers. Memorial Hall will have a full stage, and Fuchs hopes they can fill the audience too. The performances' typical home in Hill Hall is currently unavailable due to ongoing renovations. 

“The thing about performing in Memorial Hall is that it’s so big, that an audience that would normally fill Hill Hall hardly makes a dent in Memorial,” he said. 

The concerts typically attract friends and family members of the performers. But this time, a special guest will be in the audience.

“We’re very excited to have composer James Primosch coming to see us perform,” Klebanow said. 

Primosch wrote “The Call,” a piece the Carolina Choir will perform without the orchestra. A professor of music theory and composition at the University of Pennsylvania, Primosch drove seven hours on Wednesday to attend a rehearsal of his piece in Chapel Hill.  

“The group already sounded wonderful, and it’s excellent that they were so prepared and polished,” he said. 

Friday's performance will only be the second time his piece has been performed.

“It was written for an Emmanuel Church in Boston that had only 16 voices, so to hear it with 60 voices is really amazing.” Primosch said. 

UNC music professor Allen Anderson also wrote a piece that will be performed tonight, titled "This Night, This Moment." 

“It’s a short composition based off a Li Po poem translation which dates back to the 8th century,” Anderson said. “It’s about about what happens at the moment of departure.” 

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Anderson was first commissioned to write the piece for the music department’s commencement ceremony in 2007. Since then, it has been used in several concerts, but never in autumn where the song is actually set. 

“It’s nice that it’s finally being done in the fall during somewhat of a time of departure,” Anderson said. “I was reading a lot of poetry, and this one jumped off the page. It was exactly the sentiment I wanted to express.”

Both composers said they were thrilled to know the proceeds from the concert will support music students.

"It’s always a thrill to see your work done, and as a composer, it never ceases to be such," Anderson said. "And to know that it will support our students, well, every little bit helps."