Plenty of factors keep people at odds, but music is among the few that brings them together. That observation has led Emily Edgington Andrews to unite men and women of all ages and backgrounds, some of whom have never sung a single note, around choral music for the past 12 years.
“It is about the people, not the performance” says Andrews, 35, a Columbia resident whose work as artistic director of Choral Arts Alliance of Missouri has grown the organization to include more than 350 singers and 10 choral ensembles. “I use music as a vehicle to bring people together.”
Ever since graduating with two music-oriented master’s degrees—one from Truman State, the other from the University of Missouri—Andrews has made a mark on budding vocal talent in mid-Missouri. She teaches at Columbia Independent School and MU. She also conducts the Columbia Chorale; leads Columbia Youth Choirs (CYC), a youth choir program for students in grades 2 through 12; has served as conductor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church for the past decade; and directs the professional ensemble Prometheus: An American Vocal Concert as assistant conductor.
Andrews faces a demanding schedule of rehearsals, study sessions, classes and outreach on any given week. It might be daunting to some, but Andrews finds it exhilarating. The mother of two—Braydon, 21 months, and Brynn, 3 months—says her husband, Bryan, has provided an abundance of support to pursue her dreams and goals as a musician.
Turning Point. Andrews never expected to begin her career teaching students in middle school and early high school, but the opportunity proved transformative. In her first syllabus, she articulated for students the values she expected them to embrace as musicians.
“Kindness, respect and professionalism are the three keys to success I wrote,” Andrews recalls. She knew middle school could be tough developmentally and emotionally for kids, so she made an effort to model those principles.
She realized she had made a difference when students wrote letters to her at the end of that first school year expressing their appreciation for her class and for music. One letter from a ninth-grade boy stood out.
“He felt so safe in the classroom,” Andrews says. “It was OK for him to express the way he was feeling if he was having a bad day. He didn’t have to have this façade, this wall up. For me, it was really eye-opening the powerful effect music can have on an individual.”
Unity In Diversity. An overarching focus on bringing people together to break down barriers and promote social justice has guided Andrews in her career. It’s one of the reasons she is drawn to vocal performance.
“Choral music is accessible.” Andrews says, “Anyone can participate. It’s not something you have to buy, like an instrument. It brings many different people together.”
She is moved by music that teaches a lesson, such as music written about the Holocaust because of its capacity to teach tolerance against the backdrop of a tragic history of genocide. She once raised money to host a Truman State special performance by Robert Convery. The New York composer’s nine-part “Songs of Children” guides the listener through a boy’s experience in the Terezin concentration camp using poems written by real children who experienced it.
Pieces such as that one underscore the ability of music to cut through the noise of everyday life and create a lasting effect.
In January this year, Andrews had the opportunity to bring almost 1,000 people together through a unity concert she organized starting in 2014. The purpose of the concert was to work toward bridging the gap between two cultures, she says. Thematically, she showed this by creating a community gospel choir that sang African American gospel music. She involved Columbia Chorale, which sings music primarily from the Western European choral tradition, used some of the youth from CYC and brought the various groups together. It just so happened the university experienced tension this fall, she says, making the concert even timelier.
A Place Of Change. Andrews plans to continue her career working alongside other musicians and community members to transform Columbia and the surrounding area into a place where people of all ages and experience levels can come together to sing.
“I have a vision that we can continue making a positive impact on our community by creating a culture of choral music that rivals that of any metropolitan area,” she says. “By working side-by-side with both arts and non-arts groups in the community, there is potential for reaching countless individuals. To me, being a part of this is exciting and humbling.”