ERIE, Pa. — When Taylor May first arrived at Penn State Behrend, he had never sung in a formal choir. He liked to sing, but he focused primarily on the popular music that he’d hear on the radio.
During his second semester, the Pittsburgh native enrolled in the Penn State Behrend Concert Choir to help satisfy the University’s general education arts requirement. He hasn’t looked back.
“I just fell in love with performing,” May said. “Once we all make the same vowel sounds, and when we all do that together, the sound layers so well. I could not get enough of it.”
A senior digital media, arts, and technology (DIGIT) major, May has sung in the choir during every semester since he initially joined.
He’s also a member of Tone-Acious, the student a cappella group on campus. Between Tone-Acious and the Behrend Choir, May said he spends nearly 20 hours a week practicing his singing. It’s a significant commitment, but the thrill of performing keeps him devoted.
“Once I heard the choir perform for the first time, I got chills from my own singing, which is something that has never happened before,” he said.
There also are practical reasons May has enjoyed his time with the choir. He is the alumni secretary for the Delta Chi fraternity, secretary of the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity, a member of the Order of Omega leadership honor society, and a member of the Gamers Club. With so many ongoing commitments, he needs to manage his time wisely. That’s where the choir has been so helpful.
“It’s been great for helping me learn about time management, self-practice, and what it means to be a part of something bigger than myself,” May said. “I knew choir would require a decent amount of time, but that has allowed me to better plan out my weeks. Every night, when I get home, I assess what I have to do for the next two days, and that keeps me on track. I do not think that would have happened had it not been for choir.”
May’s deepened his commitment to choir by volunteering with the Young People’s Chorus of Erie (YPC Erie), a comprehensive youth choral music program of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Penn State Behrend. He has assisted with YPC Erie’s Young Men’s Ensemble since January 2016. Twice weekly, he works with the chorus’ members, helping them hone their voices.
“It’s really been amazing,” May said. “I get to work with the young choristers, and it’s taught me so much, too. I have to watch how I am as a singer, but I also have to watch how I am as a person because I am now a mentor for all these young people.”
“Taylor is generous not only with his time, but with his energy,” said Gabrielle Dietrich, director of Choral Ensembles at Penn State Behrend and artistic director for YPC Erie. “Anyone can show up and warm a seat and get a kick out of singing. Taylor goes way above and beyond by leading through example, providing our young singers with a real-time example of how to be focused and positive and to really care about the work. I can tell them to do these things, and I can model those behaviors myself, but I’m older (closer to their parents’ age), and I’m the teacher. For choristers to see someone more like themselves being diligent, professional and engaged is incredibly powerful.”
May will graduate from Behrend in December, but he’s already planning for the future. He would like to combine his DIGIT degree with his passion for music, possibly in a public relations or marketing role at a local music organization in Erie.
As he thinks back to his success at the college, he said he owes it to one thing.
“Being in choir has just taken so much stress off. It’s not two hours of another class. It’s two hours of de-stress time,” he said. “For any student coming to Behrend, I highly suggest they look into joining the choir. Chorus isn’t for everybody, but you don’t know if you don’t try. I did not even know about it until I was a year in, but I wish I could have that time back, so I could have joined earlier.”