As the members of the Clark College Chorale sing, their voices ring with an impeccable precision, hitting exactly the right notes to complement each other. The sound fills the cramped music room with passion and exaction, a coordinated effort to create a whole sound that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This inspiring vocal feat looks effortless to the observer, but is far from it; each and every thread of the tapestry is carefully nurtured and woven into place by the woman standing on a small raised platform at the front of the classroom.
April Duvic, the chorale’s dedicated director, sways and moves her arms as though she is painting the notes in the air. Her lips are pursed with concentration, staring down each section as she mouths vowels at them. But as the pieces of the song fall into place, she can’t help but crack a smile.
In addition to the chorale, Duvic directs the Clark College Concert Choir and Women’s Choral Ensemble and teaches several classes. She has a degree in vocal performance from Whitman College and a Master of Science in teaching, with an emphasis in music, from Portland State University. Duvic will be retiring at the end of Spring quarter after 26 years of teaching and directing.
While on a break from teaching music at a Gresham high school, Duvic applied to Clark in 1990 to be a vocal instructor.
“I was home for two weeks and bored silly,” she said.
Within her first year at Clark, she had designed a course called Music for Early Childhood Education, or in her own words, “teaching people who want to be teachers how to use music to teach kids and enhance their education.”
“I did a lot of research on what lower-division undergraduates needed to be prepared for the upper-division education classes,” Duvic said. “I carefully aligned that class with what Washington State University was requiring at the time.”
According to Music Program Coordinator Shelly Williams, the feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s one of the most helpful education courses they’ll ever take, because it’s very hands-on about how to use music in a classroom,” Williams said. “They make lesson plans, and play the recorder, and she talks about the beauty of integrating music into everything you do, that kind of thing.”
Duvic said there were always more women than men who wanted to be in the Concert Choir. So in 1996, at the urging of former music teachers Chuck Ramsey and Gordon Trousdale, she founded the Clark College Women’s Choral Ensemble to accommodate the overflow of female vocalists.
“Unlike in a lot of high school choirs, the women’s choir here isn’t a training choir to get into the concert choir,” Duvic said. “They are on equal par in terms of skills and abilities.”
In 2007, Duvic teamed up with Janet Reiter, a vocal jazz instructor at the time, to found the Clark College Chorale, a singing group open to community members as well as students.
Sam Murie, a former student of Duvic, is grateful for the Chorale, and considers it to be an outlet for creativity.
“Anyone who wants to can join, you don’t even have to pay tuition,” Murie said. “When I found out it was April’s last year, I had to come out.”
Duvic has also been involved in theater at Clark, serving as music director in several productions over her years at the college.
“She teaches the music to all the students for the show, and is responsible for making sure they know their songs,” said theater instructor Gene Biby, who directed Clark’s winter production Avenue Q.
“She will work the details until it sounds exactly the way its supposed to sound,” Biby said. “She’s got a high standard of excellence, which I appreciate, because that transcends into the production.”
Music professor Don Appert agreed that Duvic’s high expectations benefit her students.
“She’s a very thorough and a very encouraging conductor,” Appert said. “She sets high standards, but lets the students know that they can meet those standards.”
Appert said Duvic’s teaching has enriched both her students and their audiences. “The college will miss her.”
But her students aren’t the only ones being held to Duvic’s high standards. Duvic has continued to work on her own vocals by attending the Washington State Choral Institute through Clark’s Faculty Development Program. She also keeps up-to-date with current events in the choral music community through memberships in professional music teaching groups.
According to Duvic, her work ethic and her love of music can both be traced back to the same place: her family.
“I grew up in a very musical household,” Duvic said. “For my fourth birthday, they asked me what I wanted, and I said a piano. So they got me a piano for $75, an old upright grand from the early 1920s.”
Duvic still has the piano. “It’s the only piano I’ve ever owned.”
Duvic said her retirement from Clark will be “bittersweet,” but that she looks forward to spending more time with her husband.
“He’s been very understanding over the years, sometimes we call him Saint Gregory,” Duvic said.
Duvic said she’s looking forward to doing some of the things she wasn’t able to do with her husband previously, but added that she will miss her students.
“I derive great pleasure in watching them go from knowing nothing about a piece of music, to bringing it to life. Singing it with confidence, beauty and artistry. That can’t be replicated.”
Retiring isn’t the end of teaching music for Duvic. She’s remodelling her house to include a new studio for giving private lessons and hopes to continue working in musical theater, judging vocal competitions and working with local choirs.
“People say if you’re gonna work so much, why are you leaving the college? It’s because I would like to set my own schedule,” Duvic said. “If I want to go to the beach, I’ll be able to decide to go to the beach instead of teaching a class.”
While Duvic will miss working at Clark, she said she is leaving the chorus in good hands with her replacement, Dr. Jacob Funk, who will begin work in Fall 2016.
“He knocked me out of the park with his interview and how he worked with the choir,” Duvic said. “I was completely confident that he was the right choice. Also, the students were enthused about him when they responded to him. That’s what I wanted to see.”
Duvic’s final performance as a Clark choral director will be on Saturday with the Clark College Concert Choir.