New faculty: Colin Britt
For Colin Britt, new faculty member at Mount Holyoke College, choral music is a calling, both professionally and even physically.
“I’m a big Bach fan. I have a Bach tattoo on my arm. And I love me some Brahms,” laughed Director of Choral Studies Colin Britt during a recent chat. He takes music seriously — but, clearly, not too seriously.
Britt grew up playing the piano, singing in children’s choirs and acting in musical theater as a kid in Lewiston, Maine. (He’s used to college towns: His dad was a professor at Bates College.)
He headed slightly south for college to Hartford’s Hartt School, the conservatory of the University of Hartford, where the choir director recognized his innate talent.
“He recognized this spark in me, this drive toward choral music, and he offered to give me conducting lessons. Through that mentorship process, I determined that I wanted to go to grad school for conducting,” he said.
After that it was on to the Yale School of Music for his master’s degree in choral conducting. Over the past decade he and his wife lived in New Jersey, where he earned his doctorate in choral conducting at Rutgers University while performing at legendary venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He was also the longtime choir director at Rutgers Preparatory School. Britt still hasn’t left the mid-Atlantic entirely: He’ll continue to conduct the West Village Chorale, traveling weekly to Manhattan.
It’s a commute. But for Britt, choral music is a calling, both professionally and even physically.
“We’re elevating poetry — telling a story dramatically — doing something with our voices that, I think, is so central to our human experience. Singing with other people is transformative,” he said. “When people sing in a choir together, their metabolisms, their physiologies start to connect with other people, and their heart rates start to sync up. There’s just something that happens with other humans singing together in the same room that I think is really special.”
He thinks Mount Holyoke is special, too.
“Every time I speak with students, faculty or staff, people are just happy. There’s a sense of feeling seen, of having opportunities, of being able to pursue interests or to discover new passions. You have the opportunity to try out different things, to become a more curious human. And I think that the music department really lives up to that mission in a wonderful way. A sense of possibility exists here,” he said.
There’s even more possibility post-COVID: Britt is excited to resume events that were restricted during the height of the pandemic, including a signature campus Vespers performance in December (he’s also expecting his second child in December, so it’s a busy time).
The traditional biennial wintertime Vespers performance at Old South Church in Boston is also back in the works. Up next: potential international tours and a new composition competition called the Pioneering Voices Choral Series, with the winners having their works premiered next spring.
“There are a lot of traditions on the campus, and the choral program is a very visible manifestation of those traditions,” he said.