Harmonious variety: how director Rucsandra Popescu formed the J-Cappella choir

May 04, 2017

Rucsandra Popescu still recalls the her first performance well. In the fall of 2008, the choir was still small, the singers inexperienced, the songs simple. But there was still that enthusiasm, these emotions, that touched you. They have remained. And they have been joined by professionalism, ambition, and the will to break through vocal boundaries. Musical Director Rucsandra Popescu has shaped J-Cappella, the choir of Jacobs University into an extraordinary ensemble.

The woman from Romania, who comes from a musical family, was still a student herself when she took over the choir: At the University of the Arts Bremen, the then 28-year-old had already registered for a Master in Composition. Right at the very start, the little group dared to leap into cold water. Together with the Brahms Choir in Bremen, and with the Philharmonia of Nations under the direction of Justus Frantz and Joshard Daus, they sang the “Choral Fantasy” and the “9th Symphony” (“Ode to Joy”) by Ludwig van Beethoven.

That experience fused them together, but it takes more to build a choir. “It takes regularity, constancy, and discipline,” says Rucsandra Popescu. “There’s no other way to develop harmonious sounds.” But how do you achieve continuity and vocal homogeneity, when choir members leave every year, because they have finished their degree and new members take their place?

“Through hard work, a lot of patience, and clear structures,” she says with a laugh. In the beginning, it was difficult to find young basses and tenors. But as time went by, a hard core of voices had been formed, comprised of former students and employees of the university, joined by ever increasing numbers of new singers from later classes. If you want to join, you have to audition for her. “The students don’t have to know how to read music, but they should be able to control their voice. Their motivation is very high, and a lot comes simply from a lot of practice.”

Joint practice is held once a week. Additionally, singers at the same pitch meet separately each week; then there are choir weekends and appearances, like the very well attended Christmas Concerts and the Spring Concert. J-Capella is also booked for concerts away from campus.

The hallmark of the choir is its internationality. A good dozen nations are currently represented in the ensemble of about 35. For instance, the soprano can come from Korea, the tenor from Costa Rica, and the alto from the Ukraine – each one contributes a very specific cultural experience. “The variety gives J-Cappella an unbelievable presence. Each one wants not only to sing a little; the singers are very ambitious; they want to improve, and they are willing to make the necessary investment. As director, it is a great pleasure for me.” The diversity is also reflected in the different musical directions and languages. Sometimes they sing in German, English, French, and even Latin, from classic selections to modern pop songs or pieces from the homelands of the singers.

The variety and class of J-Cappella was also recognised by the jury of the International Festival for Advent and Christmas Music in Prague. In 2012, at their very first competition, the musicians won silver. A year later, the choir performed in Venice in a concert organized by Rucsandra Popescu, who had moved to the lagoon city for three years. But she was still taking care of J-Cappella in Bremen, despite the distance: “Thank goodness for Ryanair!” She flew in twice a month, even practicing on weekends sometimes.

And J-Cappella is not the only choir being handled by the trained concert pianist. As an instructor at the “Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig” (Academy of Music and Theater), she directs the jazz choir; she also directs the Youth Choir in Oldenburg, the ensemble d’accord in Bremen, and the Buchtstraßenchor, which is known above all for its political songs. And then there is composition, another passion, for which she earned the Composer Prize 2012 of the State Music Council. In the same year, she completed her Doctor of Composition as one of the last students of Professor Younghi Pagh Paan. How does she manage it all? Very simply: “As an artist, I am versatile and very active. That’s my work!”

In the fall, J-Cappella celebrates its tenth anniversary. Rucsandra Popescu also wants to produce a musical journey through time, the history of the choir packaged in a musical. Many former choir members have already agreed to come. They will travel here from all over the world, from the USA, Asia, and many countries in Europe. “The family will be reunited again,” says Rucsandra Popescu. “I am extremely happy.”


Additional information:

Send questions for the choir to:
Jacobs-choir-board [at] jacobs-university.de