Choral Institute returns

Sacred music has a way of penetrating the heart and making worship more meaningful.

The music is especially effective if the singers are in one accord, lifting their range of voices in unity.

Since the year 2000, conductor Robert Long has been working with local vocalists to accomplish that goal through the Academy of Sacred Music’s Choral Institute.

This year will be no exception. Long invites singers to further develop their skills through the three-day institute that culminates in a concert to be given at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lakemont.

As in the past, Long will teach at least six selections that concentrate on basic and choral singing skills, which include posture, breathing and phrasing. One piece will stand out as the highlight of the concert and will raise the bar musically for the participants.

It is the “Requiem” by 20th century French composer Maurice Durufle. Long said institute students will learn and perform four or five movements from the classical piece that is composed in the style of a contemporary liturgical chant. He said it was chosen to challenge their voices beyond the music they sing in their home churches or community choirs.

Many of the students are musically talented, with choir directors, music directors and teachers among the group.

However, anyone who enjoys singing — from high school students to people who don’t have time to commit to a church choir’s yearlong schedule — are welcome to attend.

Among the participants who enjoy singing is Valerie Metzler of Altoona. A vocalist since she was a child, Metzler sings tenor in the Blair Concert Chorale and has attended the choral institute for more than a decade. She attends Twenty-eighth Street Church of the Brethren, which does not have a choir at the present time. She also sang with a female quartet, known as Brethren Harmony.

Metzler first became familiar with the choral institute more than a dozen years ago when she took her two sons to its annual concert. At that event, a yearlong scholarship to the academy was awarded to a young person. She enrolled in the choral institute the next year and learned through literature about the academy that the scholarship at the time was open to all ages. She decided to apply for it.

Metzler remembers her oldest son saying: “You won’t get it, Mom.”

But she did.

“It changed my life,” she said. “My voice improved so much. It was amazing.”

Metzler said she enjoyed the lessons, and when they ended, she signed up and paid for a second year.

A professional archivist and historian, Metzler said she has a “great love of learning” and continues to attend the institute because she learns a lot through it.

“Bob is an excellent teacher,” she said, adding that she considers each rehearsal as a group vocal lesson.

The institute’s rehearsals (skill development sessions) are held for three evenings with some of the learning taking place by observing Long during the sessions or taking part in informal discussions. As a musician, Long said he follows the same practice when he attends other music festivals as a way to gain fresh ideas.

“(The conductor) may approach warm-ups differently or teach a difficult piece in a different way,” he said.

He explained that the directors can take some of those ideas back to the singers they lead.

“After rehearsal, there is sharing, questions,” he said. “It’s a nice place to share about the repertoire, to ask for guidance, to share experiences,” he said.

Long added that music directors at Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as community choirs attend the institute.

Formal skill development sessions will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. June 18 to 20 with registration and light refreshments from 5 to 6 p.m. June 18 to kick off the program. All sessions will be held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 344 Baynton Ave. Registration is $25 and is required by June 11. Scholarships are available for participants in need. For more information or to register, email Chris Ringkamp at

For those who want a first glance at the repertoire, which includes pieces by Gjeilo, Haas, Hopson, Keil and Alice Parker, an optional pre-institute skill development session will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. June 2 at the church. To attend the pre-institute session, send an email to Ringkamp by Thursday.

The public performance will be held at 7 p.m. June 21 at the church with solos presented by Julie Hanlon, soprano, and James White, bass-baritone. Asa Carns will accompany the group on piano and organ.

Concert-goers will be asked to give an offering to provide scholarships for voice or instrument lessons for junior and senior high school students in Blair County.

Long noted that the concert is returning to the Altoona area after being part of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts for several years. He said he is expecting a good audience.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Hollidaysburg native

conducts Choral Institute

Robert Long, a native of Hollidaysburg, is the conductor/instructor for the Academy of Sacred Music’s 2018 Choral Institute.

He is co-founder and music director for the Academy, based in Hollidaysburg. The goal of the academy is to promote sharing, scholarship and skill development in the field of sacred music. The academy sponsors Seraphim, a professional choir that explores music from all religious traditions. Seraphim presented the New York City premiere of “Magnificat” by composer Nancy Galbraith in St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University.

Long is director of music ministries and organist for Corpus Christi Parish in Chatham, N.J., and formerly served as director of music and choir master at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, where he conducted the Cathedral Choir and worked with many world-renowned guest artists, as well as conducting the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Chamber Orchestra, which included musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

He is a pianist and singer and also served as director of music at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.