On Friday, Jan. 13, the University’s first Renée Crown Professors in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) were formally recognized. Heidi Hehnly, associate professor of biology, is the Renée Crown Honors Professor in the Sciences and Mathematics, and Karin…
Peppie Calvar Discusses Holidays at Hendricks, Spreading the Light of Music Around the World on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
Holidays at Hendricks has become one of the most anticipated holiday traditions on the Syracuse University campus.
Each December, students in the Setnor School of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts entertain the University community with live musical performances, and this year, there are two sold-out, in-person concerts on Dec. 4—4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.—along with a virtual concert on Dec. 11.
Hosted by Hendricks Chapel, these performances are free and open to the public. Celebrating the sounds of the season, Holidays at Hendricks is anchored by the Hendricks Chapel Choir and its director José “Peppie” Calvar, associate professor of applied music and performance and assistant director of choral activities in the Setnor School.
“The amount the show has grown since my arrival here in 2013 is incredible,” says Calvar, who spends 18 months organizing each year’s musical celebration.
“We’re showing institutionally what we as the Setnor School of Music do best, and we get to do it all at once in this one big moment. It’s tremendously fulfilling for us and for our students, and we hope that our audience feels the same way.”
Calvar stops by to discuss Holidays at Hendricks and what the student-centric concerts mean to the University community, why Holidays at Hendricks is such a special celebration and what people can expect from this year’s performances.
Calvar also shares the challenges of producing the first virtual Holidays at Hendricks during the COVID-19 pandemic, how he went from being an engineering student to pursuing a career in music and his passion for spreading choral music around the world through a series of international residencies.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
Check out episode 125 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring José “Peppie” Calvar, director of the Hendricks Chapel Choir and artistic director of Holidays at Hendricks. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01Why is Holidays at Hendricks such a special celebration for our community?
Every group that performs in Holidays at Hendricks functions as a class within the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The Syracuse University Singers. The Hendricks Chapel Choir. Crouse Chorale and Setnor Sonority. The Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra. Syracuse University’s big band, the Morton Schiff Jazz Ensemble. And student organists. I think that’s one of the things that makes it so special—the community gets a chance to see and hear what it is that our students are doing and how our faculty are interacting with students to make them better musicians and prepare them to be musicians for a lifetime.
02How has Holidays at Hendricks evolved into an all-encompassing theatrical performance?
We’ve done such a wonderful job. Thanks in large part to Brian Simons and Logan Simons from Sensational Events in providing some aesthetic improvements, and to all of the staff in Hendricks Chapel who have invested so much of their capacity and their bandwidth to see that the space is as inviting as possible and reflective of what we want to communicate to our community as we celebrate these moments together. We’ve worked really, really hard and we’re super happy with the lighting. It really is a tremendous investment of time, energy and thought, and we love that the community has loved us back so much.
03How challenging was it to pull off Holidays at Hendricks virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Holidays at Hendricks 2020, I think, was a miracle. It was a small miracle. So many people did so much work that was a marriage of things that are within and outside of their expertise. We all became video and audio editors very quickly. We had the blessing of having the relationship with Brian Simons that helped us coalesce all our materials into something that was really spectacular, which let us reach out to our community in a time when they really needed to feel a sense of community because of all the isolation.
Necessity is the mother of invention and the necessity of needing to reach out to our community during the pandemic has actually invented a much better and more accessible Holidays at Hendricks, particularly to those families of our students who live across the world and can’t make it here to see their children do what they do so well.
04How did you develop your love of music?
I’ve been a composer since I was in middle school. I’ve always enjoyed being behind the keyboard and seeing what it was that I could record and do and overdub. I didn’t realize that I needed this to be my career until a profound moment that I had in church as a freshman in college. I was at North Carolina State University as an engineering student, realizing to myself as time went on and as I continued to fail calculus tests that engineering was really not for me. I had been going home and ministering in my church in the music ministry with my mom and some friends. That October, I had an experience that felt like I had been hit over the head while singing ‘The Cares Chorus.’ From that moment on, I knew what I had to do. And destiny has unfolded from there for me. I have been very, very blessed.
05You found your passion and your calling. What does it feel like to work with our students to help them discover their passions?
It is a daily blessing. It always comes with its set of challenges, but it also comes with small, daily victories. A light goes off in somebody’s head every single day around here. I’ve said it from the day I arrived, I feel like being at the right place at the right time is really important for people. This place has such a wonderful tendency to create the right time for people.
06You're a firm believer in spreading the light of music around the world. How do you go about doing that?
I think that’s part of my job as a faculty member at this institution, to bring choral music and great choral music, particularly great American choral music, across the world. [Recently] I was in Brazil for a residency for two weeks doing a choral festival and a clinic on music literacy, which I find to be so incredibly important. The world wants to sing and the world will sing a whole heck of a lot better and will sing a lot more if it knows how to read music.
Later this spring, the Hendricks Chapel Choir is going to collaborate with the Syracuse University Wind Ensemble and travel to Lockerbie, Scotland, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Pan Am Flight 103. We are so excited and honored to be a part of that commemoration. We couldn’t be any more excited about the international impact that the Hendricks Chapel Choir is having. I’m just honored to be in the right place at the right time, even if that right place happens to be 5,000 miles from here.