More than 40 years after her graduation, Phyllis Dato-Timbario added her voice back into the range of voices in Pitt’s Women’s Choral Ensemble.
Pitt’s past and present WCE members serenaded an audience of more than 100 people inside Heinz Chapel for its 90th Anniversary Fall Concert Sunday. To celebrate, the group invited back active alumni, like Dato-Timbario, to take part in the Fall Concert.
“It’s been really great. There are some differences, but there’s still that same love of music,” Dato-Timbario said.
Serving as the WCE President from 1972 to 1973, Dato-Timbario said her four-year involvement in the group was integral to her experience at Pitt.
“They were the best years of my life,” she said.
Current WCE Director Lorraine Milovac started to reach out to alumni — the choir’s first time including former member — in May with the help of former President Lexi Bovalino and current President Kathleen Shedlock. The three established a special committee for the event, which included 90th Anniversary chairs Christine Berliner, Tori Bovalino and Christine Turvey.
“We thought we might just get a handful of people,” Bovalino said. “But then we even had add-ons last minute with people emailing us.”
Milovac worked extensively on recruiting 18 alumni for the event, and has committed wholeheartedly to her work with the women in the group as she approaches her 19th year as the director of the WCE.
“I spent hours upon days upon weeks upon months for this,” Milovac said. “This was our 90th anniversary, so I said we’re going to do something big.”
The current members began the concert with two sacred choral pieces, “Os Justi” and “Esto Les Digo,” at the back of Heinz Chapel in the balcony. They gradually sang their way to the front of the hall, and concluded alongside the alumni, who emerged from their seats and blended into the ensemble for the last four songs.
Milovac said she decided to go with a combination of old and new songs that both the alumni and the current members could connect with. She mentioned songs like “I Have Had Singing,” a song about finding pleasure even through life’s many challenges, and “The Road Home” as some of the strong numbers that she felt the different generations of vocalists could identify with.
“I look at the text, I look at the music, you need to find the flow,” Milovac said of her song selection process.
Milovac grounded her selections in themes of unity and characteristics of “sweet music,” which she found in more angelic compositions like “Amazing Grace” and “What a Wonderful World.”
The ensemble of 43 undergraduates, 18 alumni and two faculty members performed 12 songs and closed with Pitt’s alma mater.
Noelle Marousis, a junior psychology major and vice president of the WCE, said the concert was strategically scheduled for homecoming week this year in the hopes of connecting with more alumni. New and old members got acquainted over a breakfast on Sunday morning, and then delved straight into rehearsal for the 3 p.m. show.
“It was a real rapid process, but it was super fun,” Marousis said. “I think the coolest part was that [the alumni] were able to interact with us on the same level because we had that same WCE experience.”
After holding auditions during the first week of classes, the current members started practicing for the big performance for four hours per week. The alumni only had Sunday to practice and refine their songs, which included what Shedlock calls the “anthem” of the ensemble, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which they sing every year.
“That’s a song we incorporated into this concert since we did have our alumni coming back, and it’s something many of them learned in the past when they were students here,” Marousis said. “It was something cool to sing for all the current members and the older members coming together.”
Bovalino said the zeal for music that each member — old and new — shared with one another explains why there was a strong harmony among the alumni and the current members in a short amount of time.
Since graduating in 2016 with a degree in marketing and human resources management, Bovalino has been busy starting her career at Dick’s Sporting Goods. But these types of connections are exactly why she still makes time to mentor the new board members of the WCE as they assume the leading roles of the ensemble.
“Singing is our passion,” Bovalino said. “That’s what brings us together and allows us to have such deep bonds.”