Lauren Scharf Appointed A Cappella Choir Director
Though plans for the upcoming school year continue to be unclear, upon its beginning in September — no matter how it will look — Lauren Scharf will make history.
In 95 years, only four individuals have served as director of the Jamestown High School A Cappella Choir. As of Tuesday night, Scharf will become the fifth, succeeding Norm Lydell who retired in June.
“I’m honored to be in this position,” said Scharf, whose appointment was announced by the Jamestown Public Schools district on Thursday after being approved by the board of education on Tuesday. “I’m thrilled that I can step up into the high school choral director position and focus on improving the musicianship and singing of our students here in Jamestown.”
Scharf is also cognizant of another milestone related to her appointment — she will be only the second woman to lead the choir.
Her predecessor on that list is memorialized many ways: a bandshell located at Allen Park that bears her last name, scholarships available for local students and a portrait that hangs outside Room 50 in the high school. But perhaps the greatest testament to Ebba Goranson’s legacy are the traditions that she initiated that continue today 63 years after her passing — ecumenical robes, an annual Vespers service of sacred music in a sound-laden church and a candlelight processional singing of “Kyrie Christe, Kyrie Eleison” at Christmas time, among others.
“I think it’s amazing that Ebba Goranson was able to establish a program 95 years ago that is still in existence today,” Scharf said. “I think it’s a really cool thing as a female conductor and musician that I’ll be stepping into a prestigious role that has a lot of recognition and I think it’s a real testament to what women can do.”
Though a new addition to the high school building, Scharf, an Ellicottville native, is not a completely new face to the district. She relocated to Jamestown in the fall of 2014 to serve as Persell Middle School’s general and choral music teacher and in the spring of 2015 began her association with the Jamestown High School musical, serving as vocal director for two years before becoming the director in 2017. She’s also immersed herself in the local arts community, performing in musicals at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown and Jamestown Community College, while also performing as a member of the area’s Chamber Singers through the Community Music Project.
“If anything, I think being at the high school is going to increase participation in the musical,” she said. “I’ll be able to connect with more students but I’m also excited to branch out of the choral department and look to the English, art and technology departments to find students who could be an asset to the music program and musical productions.”
But upon her move to the area, the choir always was something that fascinated her.
“When I came to Jamestown I had no idea what I was stepping into,” Scharf said. “I was impressed beyond belief with the tradition that had been established and I’m excited to see how it will continue to progress throughout the years.”
Her predecessor, Lydell, also became a mentor in the process, inviting Scharf to be a guest conductor at last December’s Vespers service and accompanying the choir on its trip to Walt Disney World, while also assisting him in the digitization of choral records and cassette’s for archival purposes.
“As soon as I was hired, he brought me in and told me all about the history and the program,” she said. “I’ve really been working with him for the last six years and this past year, I was able to go on the Disney trip, see them perform, how those field trips are planned and executed … and then the digitization of all of the archives of A Cappella concerts. We had records and tape cassettes, CDs of all of the concerts. Myself, (Lydell) and Jonathan Bell digitized these tracks to make them available for archival purposes. In doing that, I was able to dive into the history and the repertoire that was sang at Vespers concerts and at the spring concert as well.”
She’ll also have the benefit of working with both predecessors — Brian Bogey, the choir’s director emeritus who retired in 2003, will return to accompany the choir this school year, a role in which he has served since 2013. Bogey succeeded Donald Bube in 1983, who himself succeeded Goranson in 1958.
“What’s neat is that at one point, there will be three directors on stage and participating,” she said.
And while Scharf is excited, she knows the challenges that are to come in assuming this role with the COVID-19 pandemic establishing uncertainties around the 2020-21 school year.
“Stepping into this position amidst the pandemic was not how I intended my first year to go,” she said. “There are a lot of studies out there looking into the spread of the virus through singing and playing an instrument that will help us to dictate how we run our classrooms, but ultimately it comes down to the school district and how students will be reintegrated into the classroom. It’s my goal to have some sort of livestream performance or a limited seating performance for Vespers in December, but we have to go on what will be safest and what’s physically allowed.”
nevertheless, she couldn’t be more pleased to continue the work of those who came before her.
“My passion has always been working with students and watching them grow, both as musicians and as individuals,” Scharf said. “I will now get to do that on a daily basis which is really exciting. I am thankful to those who came before me who developed and maintained a program of such prestige. I look forward to upholding this legacy as we negotiate the challenges ahead.”