State of Sewanee: A joyful noise

By Katie Kull

Contributing Writer

Katie Kull (C’17) serves as president of the University Choir.

Returning to campus in the fall creates a particularly exciting feeling for me. It brings a new year of challenges and reminds me I am one year closer to the end of my days here. Most importantly, it means a fresh set of faces is about to embark on the most critical aspect of their Sewanee journey: finding their place on campus. For the past three years, this return to community life has also meant beginning again with my favorite—and the oldest—student organization on campus, the University Choir. And this year, we certainly have a lot to be joyful about.

As highlighted in a recent Sewanee Purple article, this year the choir not only welcomes new freshman singers, but also a new director. Freshly planted in Sewanee with his wife, Hilary, and newborn son, Harris, Dr. Geoffrey Ward has already become a fixture of my favorite piece of Sewanee. He jokes with us about hearing raucous students on weeknights and loves to recount the story of a group of intoxicated young women climbing into a white van he was driving thinking it was Bacchus. His charm and genuine enthusiasm for all things choir-related yields an incredible response from the Class of 2020. I have never seen the choir quite this large.

Despite the inevitable differences between directors and the change in dynamics from year to year, it never fails to surprise me how much things stay the same. The new choristers have only been with us for a few weeks now, but I can already see so many reminders of people from the past and specters of the roles they will play in the future. At risk of sounding very old, there is something about the cyclical nature of our involvement in the things we love on this campus that makes it less bittersweet to know I’ll soon be leaving.

Most shocking to me is the coincidental tradition of freshman roommates joining the choir together. When I signed my name to the activities fair email list at the choir table what seems like a lifetime ago, I noticed that the name of my freshman roommate, MaryBeth Yancey, was also on the sheet. We both attended the interest meeting and decided choir was for us–now, three years later, we are the president and vice president. As we sat cowering in the back row of the alto section in the fall of 2013, we were surprised to discovers that two senior choristers had also joined the choir together as freshman roommates. They stayed on through their four years and were excited beyond words to find another pair of choristers to carry on the tradition. This year, as MaryBeth and I continue to deeply deny that we are leaving, I find some comfort in the newest froomie pair in the choir: Bre Pactor and Livia Karoui.

What I’m really trying to say through this whole thing is that I am proud to see that things persist. We worry that Sewanee is changing too much, and that we won’t recognize the place we loved when we come back in five, ten, or twenty years. But when I stand in the choir stalls in All Saints’, laughing at Dr. Ward’s antics and pointing out the hymn numbers to new choristers, I feel a great sense that there are some feelings—including the feeling of belonging—that will never change.

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