Kitanya Murray

Unifying Voices

Kitanya Murray came to Bluffton in 2008 as a music major with a concentration in performance studies.

Now, newly graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, with a master’s degree in arts management, she helps organize some of the world’s largest school choir concerts for Young Voices (UK) Ltd. And currently, she is also coordinating a planned 20,000-voice adult choir that will perform next May in Cardiff ’s 74,500- seat Millennium Stadium.

Getting there “has all stemmed from Bluffton,” and, in particular, from her two biggest musical influences on campus, she says.

The Findlay, Ohio, native was already taking saxophone lessons from Dr. Adam Schattschneider, professor of music, when she decided to attend Bluffton. She was more interested in classical than jazz saxophone, she recalls, but “that’s where Adam came in,” introducing her to other options in music.

Among them was its business side. When Schattschneider and Anna Stembler-Smith, Murray’s piano instructor, asked the then-sophomore to serve as student coordinator for the Artist Series, “I discovered there’s more to the music world,” she says.

In the position, she supervised other student workers and was also a member of the Artist Series planning committee, gaining experience in performing arts administration, Schattschneider notes. And she found out she was good at it, says Murray, who added a minor in business administration around the same time.

“She was very passionate about her Artist Series responsibilities and did an excellent job from day one,” says Schattschneider, who also directed her for three years in a saxophone ensemble and for four years in the Bluffton Jazz Ensemble.

Realizing she enjoyed organizing arts events—she remained the Artist Series student coordinator for three years—but not knowing what to do with that interest after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2012, Murray did some research into graduate programs. She found that the Royal Welsh College was among the top 10 schools in the world for arts management and, she says, “I was in a moment of my life that I thought ‘If I’m going to travel, now is the time to do it.’”

She went to Wales in September 2013 and soon discovered that arts organizations, knowing the college’s reputation for producing high-quality professionals, come there looking for new employees. The first opening she heard about involved working with children and music. She applied and, by the end of October, she was working part time at Young Voices as an office assistant. When the coursework portion of her graduate program ended in July 2014, she moved into her current, full-time position as concert and events assistant.

 “It’s all over the place,” says Murray about her job. “What I do depends on what time of the year it is.” But a lot of her time is spent talking to and corresponding with elementary teachers whose school choirs join others in concerts generally encompassing 4,500-8,500 children.

The 19 arena concerts, featuring different youngsters each night, are held, tour-like, on four successive weeks in January and February in four English cities—Birmingham, Sheffield, London and Manchester.

They are held after Christmas, Murray explains, because it’s a good fit in the United Kingdom’s school year. The concerts “help teachers keep kids interested in choir,” she adds, saying that showing them the events’ scale and production, and how professionals work in the music industry, makes music “cool.”

 “We have already increased the number of concerts we do just because the interest and the audience are there,” says Murray. A 19th concert was added last year, when 120,000 student participants—mainly ages 7 and up—made the tour the largest in Young Voices history. And the London concerts, she points out, always sell out O2 Arena, which seats 20,000.

The organization went international last year, too, with concerts in Trinidad and Tobago, Germany and Newark, N.J., where 3,800 children sang. Plans call for more concerts in the U.S. and Germany, plus new ones in Australia and New Zealand.

For now, though, she’s even busier with next May’s world choir concert, which she calls “a completely different mindset” because adult choirs will provide the 20,000 anticipated voices. More than 200 choirs and 10,000 voices are already registered, and Murray is combing three databases of UK and Irish choirs to find more.

She is acting as a “switchboard” of sorts, she says, monitoring registration as well as the main email address, spreading the word about what’s happening and announcing the repertoire for the May 21 event.

Young Voices founder David Lewis staged a 10,000-voice world concert in the early ‘90s that featured Tom Jones, among other guest performers. Doubling the world choir’s size to 20,000 for this concert is Lewis’ dream, Murray says.

Also in 2016, Young Voices will mark its 20th anniversary, and the 40th anniversary of Nordoff Robbins, a London-based music therapy charity, at a benefit concert at O2 Arena. Young Voices pairs with a charity every year to raise money; about 7,300 singers are expected to help aid Nordoff Robbins’ cause at the “massive birthday party,” she says.

Working with international ensembles as the Artist Series student coordinator has proven to be valuable experience in her current job, Murray says. “Things I use at work I learned at Bluffton.”

And she particularly continues to appreciate Schattschneider and Stembler-Smith for showing her the management side of music. “You can do about as much off stage as you can on stage,” she says. “They’re the ones who opened the door to that.”