Singing Owls connect students, city residents through music

The Singing Owls brings together students and Philly residents to perform choral music.

Paul Rardin (top), the Elaine Brown chair in choral music, serves as a guest director for the Singing Owls rehearsal in Presser Hall. COURTNEY SUMMERS FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

With the stroke of his baton, Paul Rardin conducted students and Philadelphia residents to sing a 19th-century composition in unison.

Rardin, the Elaine Brown chair in choral music and a professor in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, helped form the Singing Owls Community Choir in 2014 with Rollo Dilworth, the chair of music education and music therapy. The choir aims to create an inclusive singing environment for Temple students and Philadelphia residents.

“The group is full of people who may or may not be professionals in music, but it is important that all are welcomed to participate,” Rardin said. “It makes for an enriching experience.”

Nearly 50 students and community residents rehearse every Tuesday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and have two concerts each semester.

“It’s so cool how so many people can come together to sing,” said Matthew Jenkins, a junior film and media arts major and a member of the Singing Owls’ tenor section. “All the community members I have met have been so nice.”

Rardin added that some of the choir members have a background in choral performance as teachers or as students, while others simply like the environment and enjoy singing.

“There is a diversity of experience, age, race and culture within the choir, and the music they perform reflects that diversity,” Rardin said.

Dilworth is the director of the choir, but is currently away on travel. Rardin said Dilworth insists on performing not only Western compositions, but also music from around the world, like pieces written by Giuseppe Verdi, a 19th-century Italian opera composer.

“You can always count on a rich buffet of international flavor when listening to one of their concerts,” Rardin said.

No matter your level of experience, Rardin said that each member of the Singing Owls has something to learn. Dilworth puts an emphasis on teaching the basics of choral performance, like uniform pitch and rhythm.

“If Dr. Dilworth were to introduce himself, he would probably say he was a teacher rather than a director,” Rardin said. “He is well gifted and is concerned with how students are learning.”

Although Dilworth is the director of the group, Rardin leads the group during rehearsals from time to time. Dilworth, a past chairman for Chorus America, often travels for work to present at local, state and national conferences.

Rardin added that he thinks Dilworth is one of the top directors in the world, but he still makes time to give back to the music community by visiting schools like Central Bucks High School West, and directing choirs like the Singing Owls.

“He could easily say that he is too busy,” Rardin said. “But he doesn’t, and that speaks to his humility.”

Diane Dannenfelser is a retired teacher from the Girard Academic Music Program and she has been performing with the Singing Owls since last year. She said she conducted a fifth-grade choir for years, but never actually got the opportunity to sing in one until she joined Dilworth’s group.

“I love Dr. Dilworth’s energy and enthusiasm,” she said. “It makes me feel like a student again.”

Rardin said Dilworth often emphasizes the experience and the process of what the choir does as another way to break down the barriers between Temple and people living in Philadelphia.

“I think this serves as a reminder that music truly unites us all,” Rardin said.

Patrick Bilow can be reached at

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