Today: Apr 23, 2024

Humans of SCSU- Terese Gemme

Chris Parkin- Contributor

Music is in her blood. That is why nothing has been able to stop the university’s Choir Director Terese Gemme from sharing the music with the world. 

“My father was a self-taught pianist, choral director and a church musician,” Gemme said when recounting her development as a musician. She started taking piano at 7 years old and knew by high school that music would be her path.  

After high school, she entered a music program with the organ as her primary instrument. With an undergraduate degree in sacred music, she proceeded to earn her master’s in organ. It was while working on her DMA at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University that she discovered her love for choral conducting. 

In 1999, the university was searching for a full-time choir director, and Gemme was happy to oblige.  

“When I auditioned here, it was a nice big choir, but I found out later they had hired a lot of ringers to sing,” Gemme said, “So when I started the choir here, there were only six people.”  

While the task of rebuilding the choir was daunting, membership grew rapidly under Gemme’s leadership, reaching about 70 by early 2020. By then, the choir was singing at the university, Spring Glen Church in Hamden and across Europe in biannual tours.  

However, when COVID struck in early 2020, an in-person choir quickly became impossible. Undeterred, Gemme moved the choir online. 

It was an unprecedented challenge. Gemme said the choir members sang alone in their rooms to tracks that she worked hurriedly to make, “and the editing was just ridiculously time-consuming, and it was hundreds of hours for every piece. Hundreds.”  

With challenge came opportunity. Editing the singers’ voice tracks trained her ear to notice the subtle effects produced by the alignment of voices in chords or even whole pieces, a lesson that Gemme is glad to have learned now that the choir has returned to campus. 

With membership back at over 50, Gemme cannot wait for the choir to return to Europe. It was on New Year’s Eve 2019 that she stood under the oculus of the Roman Pantheon and conducted the choir in a rendition of “Ave Maria.”  

“I was moved to tears,” Gemme said. “It was such an amazing experience, and just the most ethereal sound I’ve ever heard.”  

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