CCU blooms with cultural, musical events this spring

02/21/2014 12:00 AM

03/28/2015 4:44 PM

A new year also means another new semester with a slew of arts and activities to carry Coastal Carolina University deep into spring.

Concerts, plays and art exhibits, with many students taking the stage, play not only to colleagues across campus, but welcome the whole Grand Strand community to enjoy for an afternoon or evening out.

Matt White, a music professor, voiced his eagerness for several jazz/swing events this spring, “among various other cool things we’re up to.”

Five dates circled on his calendar range from the CCU Faculty Jazz Group playing Monday during the “Swing Jazz” evening in Johnson Auditorium, which will include two films, and the CCU Jazz Ensemble spring concert April 17 in Wheelwright Auditorium, with two big bands this year.

‘Choir Challenge’ benefit

Every winter, the downhill coast toward spring puts music in the ears of Yoav Wachsman, a professor of economics in CCU’s E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration.

He coordinates the annual “Grand Strand Choral Challenge,” the third edition of which will resonate through university’s Wheelwright Auditorium at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Wachsman said five choirs will compete for $1,000, based on votes from the audience. He’s equally energized about the organization that will benefit from these concerts, Each 1 Teach 1 ( This program, for local middle- and high schoolers from more meager backgrounds, emphasizes life and entrepreneurial skills. The goal, Wachsman said, centers on helping motivate the youth “to go to college.”

Seeing this annual concert grow each year, Wachsman said the audience size last winter doubled attendance from the inaugural event, and he hopes 500 people turn out this year.

Lining up performers, especially high school choirs, poses its own challenge, he said, because the older students are immersed in their own schools’ musical productions to round out the school year.

Yet, attracting middle school and church choirs has proven easier, Wachsman said, and that gospel and inspirational music fills the hall.

The 2014 concert also marks a new high, with five ensembles competing, and more donations already in hand, thanks to matching gifts from “an anonymous donor,” Wachsman said, grateful for all the benefactors who continue stepping up for the cause every year.

Bringing up another goal, Wachsman said ultimately, Each 1 Teach 1 coordinators seek to raise $15,000 this year, also with help from an annual autumn miniature golf tournament.

Wachsman also will direct the 2014 “Celebration of Inquiry,” March 31-April 1, this year with a “Human Spirit” theme. He said all classes on campus “get redirected and everybody shares in creative thinking and expression” across campus, with student and faculty presentations and many speakers. Joe Moglia, the CCU head football coach, will give the keynote address 7-8:30 p.m. April 1 in Wheelwright Auditorium; admission is free, but call the box office at 349-2787 for tickets.

Singing, sharing her heart

Sarah Reese will sing a program of arias at 4 p.m. March 1 in Wheelwright Auditorium.

The Metropolitan Opera soprano, who has carried her chops around the world for more than two decades, said being shy and not talkative, “my most comfortable mode of communication is singing.”

Chatting by phone last week from home in Greenville, Reese reflected on her impetus for opera. At age 15, after singing a number for church, a woman whom Reese said “had never heard of” belted out a song to preface her husband’s speech. Reese called the selection the “most important I ever heard,” which the guest delivered with “a booming, operatic voice.”

“She sang ‘If I Can Help Somebody,’ ” Reese said, “and when she was finished, everybody leapt to their feet.”

Afterward, Reese welcomed an invitation to sit next to the guest, Coretta Scott King. Reese said King was an aspiring opera singer with “an incredible voice,” but she forsake that career to be by husband Martin Luther King Jr.’s side.

Reese, who said the only singer she had heard to that point was Marian Anderson, enjoyed Coretta Scott King’s talking with her about singing, the voice as “an instrument,” and continuing to study.

“Little did I know who that woman was,” Reese said, “and who that woman was going to be. When she sang, I’m like, ‘Wow.’”

Reese said when she received an award years later from CCU’s Women in Philanthropy and Leadership, she marked the honor by remembering her meeting with Mrs. King.

“That was my life has been about,” Reese said, “otherwise I would not have come full circle and return to my roots.”

Fond of laughing, unable to contain her natural cheer in conversation, Reese said that in childhood, “at church, when we sang, I never sang like anyone else, but they let me be in the choir anyway.”

Reese treats singing as “that gift and that investment” she loves to share with young people, not matter what their talent level.

“You take what a person has,” she said, “and help to develop it as much as possible.”

If someone asks Reese, “Why are you here?” she has a simple, heartfelt response: “I’m where God wants me to be.”

Singing with ensembles in places such as Berlin, Vienna and Carnegie Hall, and on Grammy Award-winning recordings, Reese needs no further convincing of her dreams come true.

“Really, come on,” she said. “Those are miracles.”

No matter where she trots across the globe, Reese has a signature finale, Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

“Everybody responds to that song,” she said, remembering how in Russia, an interpreter explained to the audience what the song’s words mean. “And they clapped for 20 minutes, and that’s after I’ve done an operatic concert.”

Reese said such a lighter, even spiritual piece helps make her presentations “eclectic,” so a concert does not comprise just “serious songs” sung in another language to which audiences “politely applaud at the end.”

Breaking from some breakfast nibbles for this interview, Reese said her dog was begging for her attention. A group of students, wanting to cheer her up after her mother’s death, made a surprise gift with the half-Chihuahua, half-dachshund.

“I named her after my first opera performance in Chicago,” Reese said. “Tosca. She’s also known as Diva Reese.”

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