|Rebecca Sullivant, a senior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School in Nashville and an active parishioner at Holy Rosary Church, was recently selected for the National Honors Choir. She is a member of the choir and a cantor at Holy Rosary. Photo by Andy Telli
When Chrissa Walsh came to Holy Rosary Church a year ago as director of music ministry, she was pleased to discover that Rebecca Sullivant was still a parishioner, still actively involved in the church, and best of all, still singing.
Now a senior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, Sullivant’s talent had stood out years ago when Walsh directed sixth grader Sullivant in a school musical at Holy Rosary Academy. “I knew there was something special about her then,” recalled Walsh. “So she started singing in the choir with me, and immediately I thought: she’s a cantor. She’s that good.”
There are several active choirs at Holy Rosary, and the church rotates its cantors around. Of the three masses, Rebecca typically comes up as cantor twice a month. She also mentors Holy Rosary’s youth choir and has been a fourth grade assistant religious education teacher for the past three years.
“When she sings, or when she’s working with the kids, or when she’s a member of the choir, her spiritual presence just exudes from her,” Walsh said. “Not only is she gifted and talented, she’s just so humble and spiritual about it.”
After several months of working with Sullivant, Walsh encouraged her to audition for the Nashville Choir, a local ecumenical, faith-based choir. “She went and her audition blew them away,” said Walsh. “She made it immediately.”
Which should not have been a big surprise. For a senior in high school, Sullivant has garnered an impressive performance resume. In eighth grade, she was a paid singer for the Nashville Symphony’s Pied Piper Series for children. She’s been a member of the All-State Choir since her sophomore year at Pope John Paul II High School. She’s even sung with the Blair Chorale and Nashville Symphony during the U.S. premiere of an opera by Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters.
And ever since fifth grade, Sullivant has sung with the Blair Children’s Chorus. Currently she’s in Blair’s pre-college division. Earlier this year, her Blair directors asked if she wanted to audition for the Honors Choir on the national level. Sullivant enthusiastically replied, “Well, yeah!”
The directors selected a small group of students who they believed had the best chance of getting a spot in the National Choir. To audition, students were given a link to the American Choral Director’s Association website, which had a listing of the various potential choirs, based on age, gender and voice part.
“We worked a little bit with our directors, but it was really preparing on your own,” Sullivant said. “Then about a month after they recommended us we went to the School of Music at Vanderbilt, and, in 15-minute intervals, we practiced and they recorded audio files of us. The recordings were sent in, and then we had to wait.”
A month later on a Friday the results were posted. Sullivant had been out really late after a hectic week, and was falling asleep when a peer from Hume-Fogg and the Blair high school chorus, Brett Miller, called her. He had made it in, and wanted Sullivant to log on to see if she had been selected too.
“So I hung up, clicked on the list, and my number wasn’t there,” Sullivant said. “Then I realized I was looking at the college choir list. It was a real emotional roller coaster! I went back and made sure I was on the right list this time. I checked three times, thinking, ‘That can’t be my number.’ But it was! So now I’m going to Utah!”
At the end of February, accepted singers from all over the country – in the high school division, 300, of about 10,000 applicants – will fly to Salt Lake City for a four-day choral festival. There will also be choirs from outside of the country, like The King’s Singers from Britain and the Metropolitan Chorus of Tokyo.
“We’re going to do a piece with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which I’m so excited about!” said Sullivant.
At the conclusion of the event, all the participants will gather in one giant stadium for “The World’s Largest Community Sing.”
“Everyone is going to start singing this song together, and they’re inviting the entire city to see if they can come,” Sullivant said. “It’s projected that we’re going to break the world record for the largest group of people singing a song in an organized manner.”
All of these incredible, once in a lifetime experiences might go to the head of a different person. But Sullivant has remained modest and grounded. Instead of dreaming of record deals and Grammy awards, Sullivant’s aspiration is to get a degree in music education – a double major – and to ultimately become a choir director in a Catholic high school.
“I have thought about it and prayed about it,” said Sullivant. “And I really like that idea because there are three things I want to do with my life: music, religion and teaching. My faith and my singing are like one and the same. God gives us all these gifts to spread his love to other people. I use my voice, whether it’s singing or speaking, as the greatest tool I have to show other people how loved they are.”