First-year Student Finds Niche with Chamber Singers and Concert Choir

Jessa Boarts has found her niche with the Penn State Behrend Chamber Singers and Concert Choir.There seems to be one in every family: one person who differs from the rest of the clan.

Jessa holds that distinction in the Boarts family, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“On multiple occasions, my mom has asked me where I came from,” Boarts says.

A first-year Psychology major at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, Boarts is especially enthusiastic when it comes to choir. On a typical day, the Erie native can be found humming choir songs, listening to choir CDs in her car, or practicing the tunes she performs as part of the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir at Penn State Behrend.

Music and singing have come naturally to Boarts even though no one in her family has ever had any experience with it.

“It’s just easier for me to express my emotions through music,” says Boarts.

Boarts was one of twenty-five students who performed April 27 during “Wayfaring Stranger,” the spring concert by Penn State Behrend’s Chamber Singers and Concert Choir. The concert was the latest stop in what has been a long musical career for Boarts at Penn State Behrend.

In eighth grade, she joined the Young People’s Chorus of Erie, which was in its first year of existence. YPC Erie is a youth outreach organization of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and northwestern Pennsylvania’s only comprehensive youth choral program.

Boarts had longed to join a choir ever since her first exposure as an elementary school student, and YPC Erie was the perfect fit.

“It was kind of like a second family. I liked the togetherness that we all shared,” she says.

Over the next five years, Boarts performed in a slew of concerts as a member of YPC. She formed many relationships along the way, and her passion for choir music continued to grow.

Of all the relationships Boarts forged, perhaps none was more significant than the bond she developed with Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich. Dietrich joined Penn State Behrend in 2012 as the college’s director of choral ensembles and serves as YPC’s artistic director as part of her position.

The two immediately hit it off.

“Jessa is really special,” Dietrich says. “She’s not only a wonderful singer, but she’s one of those people who shows up every week and has a great attitude, a great spirit, and is willing to try everything.”

As Boarts began to look at colleges during her senior year of high school, she says it became apparent that Penn State Behrend would be an ideal choice. Not only did the college have the Psychology major that she sought, but it would also allow her an opportunity to continue to grow musically with Dietrich as part of the college’s Chamber Singers and Concert Choir.

“I was really interested in how she brought the music out in YPC, and I wanted to be able to continue that in the Behrend Choir,” Boarts says.

Dietrich was equally enthused when she heard the news.

“I was thrilled to hear she was staying because she’s the kind of kid you want in your choir. She’s not only the type of girl who brings good with her, she’s the type of girl who spreads good,” Dietrich says.

Boarts does more than spread good. She’s constantly trying to encourage her friends and other students on campus to enroll in either the Chamber Singers or Concert Choir class.

She subscribes to the idea that everyone has the ability to sing, which comes from Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály and is a big part of Dietrich’s teachings. It’s the reason she believes everyone should consider joining the choir.

“Anyone can sing. It’s just a matter of will someone join a choir and portray different types of music,” Boarts says.

Boarts and the rest of the Penn State Behrend Chamber Singers and Choir Orchestra performed works from American composers Aaron Copland, Cecil Effinger, and Kirke Mechem; African-American spirituals; a folk song from Northern Thailand; and music of the French Renaissance during the “Wayfaring Stranger” concert.

For Boarts, the spring concert was the culmination of months of practice and hard work. It’s a long road to get to the point of being ready to perform, but Boarts says it’s always worth it.

“My life would be pretty boring without choir,” Boarts says. “Something would definitely be missing.”