It has been a typical summer vacation from classes this year for the Morgan State University Choir. Extremely busy.
School may be out, but the internationally known group is preparing for an Aug. 10 concert at the university. And the choir recently returned from a trip to Nassau, Bahamas, where it performed before better than 2,500 people at the Crystal Palace Casino and the Golden Gates Assembly Church.
"The trip was most successful," says an understated Nathan Carter Jr., longtime conductor of the choir.
Such success has become the norm for the renowned Morgan singers. Since last summer, the choir has had dates in six nations in East Africa, at New York's Carnegie Hall, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and at the Philadelphia Academy Music.
"The choir is one of the most visible entities at the university. Our exposure is very diverse," Dr. Carter says. "The choir really has a way of endearing people to the university."
Indeed, the trip to the Bahamas was set up by Morgan alumni who wanted to spread Morgan's name in the Bahamas.
"The alumni in Nassau wanted to do something to boost Morgan's name there and to raise scholarship money," Dr. Carter says.
Such requests are common for Morgan's musical ambassadors. Dr. Carter says that the choir has probably done more than any other single thing to spread good news about Morgan State University.
In a way, the choir is to Morgan what football is to the University of Southern California or basketball is to Georgetown University.
"The demand for the choir is extensive," Dr. Carter says. "We have trouble trying to fit dates in."
Forty-six musicians made the trip to Nassau, mostly students who live in the Baltimore-Washington area who could be summoned easily during summer vacation.
Usually, the choir has between 100 and 125 members, although Dr. Carter varies the size, style and talents of the group to fit the type of concert that is going to be performed.
"If it's a gospel concert, we get a group for gospel. If it's pop we want, we get people to sing pop," Dr. Carter explains.
For a widely renowned choir, the Morgan group includes few members who have had extensive musical training. Most can't read music. And the bulk of them come to the choir mainly because they love to sing and had gained some experience in their church choirs, Dr. Carter says.
But once they are under Dr. Carter's tutelage, Morgan choir members receive vigorous training. There are long rehearsals and many concerts, which have built Dr. Carter's reputation as a stern -- and excellent -- taskmaster.
"We are about striving for excellence," Dr. Carter says. "We make no excuses about anything."
The choir does not offer students scholarships as such, but Dr. Carter promises members that if they have financial need he will try to find a way to meet them.
"I have never lost a student from the choir because of financial hardship," says Dr. Carter, who has been at Morgan 21 years.
And despite the constant demands of practice and concertrequired by the choir, Dr. Carter says his members are often better students for singing with the choir.
"I think it is an asset," Dr. Carter says. "Great people are made by having experiences beyond their academic pursuits. Instead of having time to loaf, these students use their time on something worthwhile."