KENNEBUNK — College coaches routinely hit the recruiting trail to encourage elite high school athletes to enroll at their schools. This week, the University of Southern Maine hit the road to recruit Maine’s best high school singers.

Robert Russell, a choral studies professor at USM in Gorham, arranged a tour across southern and midcoast Maine with the USM Chamber Singers to showcase their talents to high school singers. Including a performance at Kennebunk High School on Wednesday afternoon, the USM Chamber Singers gave nine concerts in four days at schools from Belfast to South Berwick.

The two dozen college singers demonstrated their skills and imparted their knowledge, and encouraged the high school students to consider the USM School of Music if they are contemplating an education that includes music.

“This gives our school a good name, and shows people that USM has a great choral program,” said Jeremiah Haley, a senior from Portland.

He was a junior at Deering High School when Russell brought the chamber singers to Portland. Haley remembers the group performing a song called “Cloudburst” by contemporary composer Eric Whitacre.

“It blew me away, and I knew then and there that I wanted to be a chamber singer and wanted to go to USM,” he said.

On Wednesday, the USM Chamber Singers shared another Whitacre gem, this one called “Sleep.”

Russell has led high school tours for 32 years. He enjoys sharing the joy of music with singers of any age, and finds it especially gratifying to visit with high school students who show interest in singing.

“They used to say that USM is the best-kept secret. We want to counter that,” Russell said. “We do these tours to continue to spread the word so people continue to know who we are.”

The tour also builds camaraderie among the college singers.

It’s exhausting to travel by bus day after day, said Molly Harmon, a USM senior, also from Portland.

“This is my millionth tour, it seems like. It’s tiring, but it’s fun to work with the kids and it helps us cohere as a group,” she said.

That’s particularly important this spring. In May, the USM Chamber Singers will embark on a 12-day tour of Spain, where they will perform in churches and concert halls.

Any recruiting is inherent in the work the singers do in the schools. There is no over-the-top pitch, no pledge form to sign or even a formal program of any kind.

Russell and the college students simply work with the high school students to give them an idea of what it might be like if they choose to study at Gorham. The college kids perform a few songs, then sit among the younger students to sing together in a workshop setting. In Kennebunk, two dozen middle school singers joined the group.

The choral director at Kennebunk High, Nathan Menifield, is a graduate of the USM School of Music.

“I want our students to see what the next level looks like. They’re capable,” Menifield said. “Exposure to the next level is the best way for them to get there.”

Caitlin Dalrymple, a Kennebunk High School senior, said she felt honored to sing with the college students.

“We’ve had people come in and sing for us before, and we’ve gone to the middle school to sing. But it’s nice to have the singers from USM come here, because they were in our position just a few years ago. It’s great to hear how good they are,” she said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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