Like many students at University of Illinois, Emily Durham wakes up in the morning and heads off to knock out a chunk of her 16-hour schedule. Throughout the course of any given day, she endures the familiar monotony of taking notes, studying and reading.
As a 22-year-old senior in FAA, one might assume that Durham indulges in a little much-needed relaxation, such as watching her favorite movie (Sister Act 2) or listening to her favorite artist (Michael Jackson), once her academic chores are over. But as music director for U of I’s Cutting Edge Show Choir, she often finds herself missing out on the luxuries of free time.
“I have to prepare before and after rehearsals, which means sacrificing things like watching a TV show or something,” Durham confessed.
Cutting Edge meets every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in room 1201 of the Music Building and during that time Durham gets to do what she loves more than anything else in the world.
“I like to sing and dance, and there aren’t a lot of groups like that around here that combine the two,” she explained.
Durham has loved music for as long as she can remember. As a child, she would steal her parents’ CDs and listen to them nonstop, but it wasn’t until high school that she began making music herself. Now, she’s not only making music, but she’s also teaching aspiring musicians. Juggling a job as a vocal coach with an academic career while simultaneously leading a show choir would probably make most people a nervous wreck, but Durham is all smiles as she warms up Cutting Edge to prepare for their weekly rehearsal.
“It’s fun because we get to be in charge of ourselves,” said Claire Wuellner, 21, reflecting on her experience in a group that’s run entirely by students.
At 7:10 p.m. Durham takes the girls off to a separate room where they practice “The Nicest Kids in Town” from the musical Hairspray. While leading them through the harmony-filled piece of music, she switches from playing piano, to clapping, to shouting out feedback – all while keeping a brisk tempo with her tapping feet. The rehearsal session is very laid-back, and there is no sense of impatience on Durham’s part when mistakes are made.
Eventually all 14 members of the choir are reunited in their rehearsal room, where they begin practicing the song as a group. Here, Durham’s focus is just as concentrated as before, despite the amount of kids present. With several major performances on the horizon, it’s a wonder that she hasn’t folded under the pressure.
“During the first couple days of Thanksgiving break, we’re performing in Springfield,” explained Matt King, president of Cutting Edge. “December 2nd is our big show, and that’s going to be in Lincoln Hall.”
Yet there is no sense of panic under Durham’s guidance. She supports her fellow performers, and they support her.
“We’re all good friends here,” she said with a grin. “In my free time, I hang out with these people; it’s like we’re best friends. Couples have even met in Cutting Edge and gone off to get married!”
Despite the friendly atmosphere, Durham maintains
a work-oriented focus that is fueled by her love for the group, and by the end of the evening everyone is short of breath and sprinkled in sweat.
“She does a good job of separating herself as a friend and as someone who’s in charge,” said Kyle Downs, a friend and longtime member of Cutting Edge.
Durham has been an active member of Cutting Edge for four years, which means that 2007 will see her last precious moments with the group. Although it will be a difficult time for the remaining members of the group, graduation simply means bigger and better things for this dedicated student.
“I want to get a degree in music and teach somewhere,” she said. “I might even go for a masters degree eventually.”
As ambitious as it sounds, Durham has already proven that she has enough talent and drive to match her aspirations. Her experience with Cutting Edge Show Choir is just one small step in a musical journey that’s bound to last a lifetime.
Check out Cutting Edge’s annual fall show, “Game Show Choir,” this Saturday, Dec. 2 at Lincoln Hall. The show starts at 7 p.m. and features special guests The Rip Chords.