Worcester State Chorale singers to honor 33-year career of Professor Christie Nigro

September 23, 2022
By: Andrea Binnick

A special tribute event on Oct. 15 will include a live vocal performance, dinner, karaoke, and dancing

From Mechanics Hall in Worcester to St. Peter’s Square in Rome with Pope John Paul II in the outdoor audience of more than 200,000 people, Professor Christie Nigro has led Worcester State vocalists through 33 years of performances and achievements at world-class venues.

“The main thing that I learned is that it’s okay to ask students to give more and do better and do things they don’t think they could ever do,” said Nigro, visual and performing arts professor of music and director of choral activities, who plans to retire at the end of this semester. “You just have to guide them through it and show them how. I’ve enjoyed all of the different aspects of the job, but the thing I loved the most was the Worcester State Chorale and how amazing they got, and how proud I was of them. Sometimes they would sing so well, I would break down. They would get to me. It’s very rewarding to watch them perform better than they ever dreamed they could sound.”

That outstanding passion for her students—and music—has inspired present and former Chorale singers to plan a gathering at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Worcester State Wellness Center, featuring a special vocal performance, dinner, and speaking program in celebration of Nigro’s service. Event registration is open to the community. In the spirit of the celebration, the event will also include karaoke and dancing.

“For more than three decades, Worcester State music students and their audiences from around the world have been touched by Christie’s musical talent, extensive knowledge, and skillful work in guiding singers toward performing at highly proficient levels on extraordinary local and international stages,” said Visual Performing Arts Department Chair and Professor of Theatre and Interdisciplinary Arts Sam O’Connell. “From creating Worcester State’s popular Women in Music course to leading the a cappella choir on campus and abroad, VPA is deeply grateful for the extensive variety of contributions that Christie has brought to the table for our department and the students we serve.”

(Front Row L to R): Worcester State Chorale sopranos Hannah Picchioni, Caitlyn Costello, Kaylee Salatino and tenor Eric Nerkowski present Chorale Director Christie Nigro with gifts of appreciation at the conclusion of their spring 2022 performance of “The Journey Home,” an a cappella performance of work by James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Anton Bruckner, and more. Photo by Matt Wright.

O’Connell also noted Nigro’s experience as a tremendous cellist who performed throughout the northeast as a soloist, chamber music performer, and orchestral musician. A recipient of Ph.D., Master of Music, and Bachelor of Music degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Yale University, and Syracuse University, respectively, Nigro performed with organizations including the Boston Ballet, the Syracuse Symphony, the New Haven Orchestra, the Worcester Orchestra, and the Hawthorn Tree Chamber Players. For the Visual and Performing Arts Department, she served two terms as Chair, and founded the department’s applied music offering.

Nigro noted more than 20 years of performance with the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra, two opportunities to conduct a consortium of choirs that represented Worcester State and five additional Worcester colleges, and 13 European tours with the Worcester State Chorale as just a few types of many meaningful highlights of her career.

Nigro said she holds fond memories from more informal moments during rehearsals, too, such as a time when she believed her Chorale singers could tackle “I’m a Train,” an extremely difficult a cappella work by the popular group called The King’s Singers.

“The whole thing starts slow, and it sounds like a train increasing in speed, and the singers make that sound that sounds like a train on the tracks,” she recalled. “They heard The King’s Singers do this, but wow did they complain because it was that difficult. We took that one to Ireland and it was a big, big hit because it’s one of those things where you almost can’t believe your ears.”

Nigro created the Worcester State Chorale in 1989 by pulling a select group of 12 altos, sopranos, and tenors out of the Worcester State Chorus, a second choral group that she continued leading throughout her tenure. Nigro noted that the Chorale initially met once per week to rehearse until the early 1990s, when she decided to take the group to a national collegiate choral competition in Washington, D.C.

“They were so determined and asked if they could rehearse for the competition three times per week, and that really increased their proficiency,” Nigro said. “We placed in the top five, and after that, the level of proficiency stayed, or got better and better.”

The Chorale’s first European tour brought the group to the Czech Republic and Austria in 1993 thanks to students’ fundraising efforts that went on to grow and evolve over the years to include leaf raking, karaoke theme nights, and “Singing Valentines,” to name just a few initiatives.

As Nigro watched coverage of the Queen of England’s procession recently on television, she reminisced of Chorale tours to St. Giles Cathedral and Windsor Castle in Edinburgh, and a journey that the students took along the royal mile. Nigro booked those performance locations and more through sending audio recordings of Chorale performances to potential hosts, with additional performance venues ultimately including Florence Duomo, palaces in Portugal, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin as the Chorale grew to include 35 students.

“It was an honor to be led by Christie for the years I was in the Chorale,” said Chorale tenor and COM Major Griffin Weber ’23. “She didn’t push for perfection; she expected it, because she always saw it in us. She began the Chorale a decade before I was even born, and I was lucky enough to be there for the final year of this incredible journey. I cannot thank her enough for some of the best times of my college career.”

Chorale Vice President, soprano, and communication sciences and disorders major Kaylee Salatino ’23 described Nigro as a wise and passionate leader who demonstrated great resilience during the pandemic through providing singers with Zoom meetings about music theory and leading them through a process of turning individual music videos into one produced, virtual concert.

“After years of amazing work, I wish her nothing but immense happiness in her retirement,” said Salatino. “I hope she is so proud of the work she has done, the person she has become and the major differences she has made in so many students’ lives. She made music!”

Nigro’s next chapter includes plans to move to the eastern side of Hawaii, where two sons and a daughter and their families—including several grandchildren—reside near Honolulu. In addition to learning the Hawaiian alphabet, which has only 13 letters, she said she is open to teaching cello lessons, doing choir work, and perhaps singing in a choir herself.

“I’m going to have to buy my cello a plane ticket, but it’s only one way,” she said.

Caitlyn Costello ’13, Worcester State’s assistant director of development, is also a Worcester State Chorale vocalist who met her husband through singing with the group. She is presently working to endow a scholarship in the name of Nigro and her daughter Carrie in honor of Nigro’s legacy. “This day is going to be a celebration of an incredible career and an even more incredible woman,” Costello said. “With the number of lives that she has had an impact on over the past 33 years, all of us want to make sure that she is sent off into retirement knowing how loved and appreciated she is. Christie was not only part of my music education but she also helped me learn skills that I use in my career every day, introduced me to some of my closest friends, and introduced me to my husband. I will never be able to thank her enough.”

Contact Jenna Beahn at jbeahnmelvin@worcester.edu or register online for the upcoming Chorale celebration honoring Dr. Nigro. Those interested in participating in the performance as a present or past singer are welcome to email Costello at ccostello4@worcester.edu.

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