“Mighty & Joyful” is the title of a new CD by the Murrah Singers, but it’s a fitting description, too, of the approach, commitment and stirring vocal music these Jackson high schoolers put on record.
Now, sales of it will boost fundraising efforts for the acclaimed, award-winning choral program.
Recorded last spring in the sanctuary at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, the project pools a dad’s love, an instrumental leader’s final semester with the youths, a legendary label and dozens of fresh voices lifted in song. The collection includes 18 choir selections as classic as Mozart and Mendelssohn and as contemporary as Kirk Franklin and Eric Whitacre.
It started with a tug on the ear and imagination of Marc Leffler, whose daughter, Perry, was in her senior year at Murrah and third year in its choral program.
“I just fell in love with that choir — just the power of their music,” says Leffler, creative director/writer at Maris, West & Baker ad agency. “The emotion and the musicianship of that choir is just amazing to me. It’s one of the great things that comes out of the Jackson Public Schools.”
The choir was led by Pierrdro Gallion — “Mr. G.” to the students — who was in the final semester of a 10½-year tenure at Murrah.
“Being able to record, after so many years of service there, was definitely a humbling experience and a very personal experience for me,” says Gallion, who oversaw its growth “almost from ground zero and maybe 15 to 20 kids, to where it was an average of 70 to 80, to even 100 each year, and another 100 in classes that fed into the choir — for 200 to 250 students involved on average.
“It grew over the years, based on the hard work we put into it, people seeing us perform and how serious we were about the arts. So, this recording is really precious to me. It seemed to be a culmination and a celebration of all that hard work.”
Leffler wanted to get the choir recorded while he still had a tie to the school, he says, so he burned a CD of some live performances and took the demo to pal Tommy Couch Jr., company president over at Malaco. “As a courtesy, he put the CD in and he was kind of blown away, too,” Leffler says, and after a meeting with Gallion, “the recording was born.” The choir had last recorded with Malaco in the late 1960s, Gallion said.
“They’re just really talented and have consistently been talented for a long time,” Couch says. “You like to try to help out with something positive happening with the city.”
Set at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church for its rich acoustics and recorded live, the session was particularly poignant for graduating seniors, as well as a key point of pride for the kids. “It was really like a dream come true, and that I got to do it with some of the closest people I’d made connections with throughout high school — I got the chance to sing alongside them,” says Murrah grad Erika Crumwell, now a freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi. “We got to put our all into the music.”
Perry Leffler had been hearing her dad talk about the possible recording for months. Still, “When we found out we were going to be recording, I was like, ‘Yes! . … We are a nationally and internationally acclaimed choir and people just don’t know that.
“Having that recording was just like, wow, that’s great! We’re doing stuff. Look at Murrah!”
Mikayla Walker, now a Murrah senior and long the choir’s visual arts inside contact, designed the album cover. “It’s always been a secret talent,” she says. “Mr. G. typically used me for the posters they do,” and called her over the summer to help out with this art. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it.’” She found inspiration in a ’60s swirl, the Murrah Mustangs’ school colors of blue and silver, and a sunrise to symbolize the optimistic hope of a new day.
Maris, West & Baker art director Parker Brewer did the album layout.
Gallion, now the arts coordinator and director of choral arts at Holmes County School District, says leaving Murrah was a difficult decision and bittersweet, but “I knew I was coming to a place where I was needed,” to build a core arts program. A strong Christian, “I felt like it was God’s will for me to come and help,” he says. “These children deserve the right to travel, to be exposed to new places, to know what it is to sing Mozart — just like those children in the city of Jackson.”
He takes with him the same spirit and philosophy that guided his decade-plus at Murrah.
“My philosophy, when it comes to teaching arts — as a music educator and an educator period — is, you can do nothing without passion,” Gallion says. “As I’ve discovered in the arts, we are our own billboard, we are our own advocate.
“The reason we were able to travel all over the nation and even across the sea, was that people saw the discipline, they saw the musicality, they saw the skill progressively grow each year and they saw our commitment to excellence.”
Murrah Singers Booster Club president Teresa Williams, whose daughter, Alexandria, is part of the choir now, calls the Murrah Singers’ CD “a blessing to us. We’re pushing to get the children and program back on track and do what they do well.” The Booster Club is now taking pre-release orders for the album, at a special $10 price; email [email protected].