Arts & Culture / Mosaic / November 13, 2013

Knox alum talks music, performance

Semenya McCord '71 performs at Newton South High School in Mass. in April 2008. (Courtesy of

Semenya McCord ’71 performs at Newton South High School in Mass. in April 2008. (Courtesy of

Six professors sat in the front row, rubrics in hand. A young Semenya McCord, class of ‘71, stood on the stage of Kresge Hall, ready to begin. She was being juried, having her singing evaluated. She had worked on three songs in preparation for this moment, waiting for the faculty to decide which one she would perform.

Every music major and minor at Knox had to participate as part of the overall grade for the course. Now that she has graduated, McCord has been on both sides of the stage, having taught at Tufts University, Dartmouth and University of Massachusetts. Performing for juries however, was “marvelously nerve-wracking.”

McCord has always lived in Galesburg. She chose Knox after taking voice lessons from a Knox professor, Creston Klingman. At Knox, McCord majored in music education.

“I always wanted to perform, but mother wanted an education part to it just in case. I’m glad she did because it made all the difference,” she said.

In addition to her studies, McCord was part of the Knox Choir. One of her formative trips out of the area to New York City was taken with the choir as a freshman. She was even involved with an ensemble of the choir, a smaller group called the Singing Siwashers, which performed at a number of recitals and sang show tunes.

McCord was also a part of a folk music group called 4 in the Morning, which traveled to Western Illinois University as well as other nearby colleges to perform.

“Back then, folk music was the big music,” she said.

When the quartet began to perform however, they were met with some faculty disdain, for fear that the members would “ruin their voice”.

According to McCord, going to Knox expanded her knowledge and helped her to gather new experiences.

“I grew up in Galesburg so Knox was the first portal into the real world with students from all across the country,” she said.

Knox influenced her way of thinking and ideas as well.

“In the Knox environment, everyone tends to think about the way things are usually done, but other ways that they could be done, to achieve a more lasting result, and additionally have connections and see demographics that have never been reached before. I remember that Knox atmosphere, and I still see it,” said McCord.

However, it did not directly affect her interest in jazz. When McCord attended, there was no jazz program at Knox, only a classical one. It wasn’t until she went east that she really got involved with jazz.

During the mid-1970s, McCord performed throughout New England. In 2003, McCord returned back to Galesburg. Married to another Knox alumni, Harry McCord ‘72, she now teaches at Lombard Middle School.

Summing up her years at Knox, McCord described the interest and enthusiasm she saw among members of the Knox community.

“See, I liked Knox because everyone has their passion. Now, it can be refreshed and fed, but at Knox you can’t just sit back and let it be. Knox is always progressive; whatever the status quo is, it’s about going beyond that, looking for other avenues and going about other ways of being effective.

Tags:  alum creston klingman Jazz knox choir Knox College music education semenya mccord

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