West Virginia Wesleyan College has Grammy connections

An artist can go through his or her entire life and never be recognized for their talent. However, there is something to be said for an artist who can not only find a place in which to showcase their talent, but also be acknowledged for it. A Grammy nomination, for instance, is a perfect example; just ask two of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s own.

Sherezade Panthaki, a 1999 alumna of the college, and Dr. James Moore, assistant professor of music, both have had the opportunity to be a part of two Grammy-nominated groups this year.

Panthaki is nominated for Best Choral Performance with the Trinity Church Wall Street Choir on their performance of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt.” Moore, along with other members of the Bob Mintzer Big Band, is nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble for their work on Mintzer’s album “For the Moment.”

Panthaki has been busy building her repertoire as an opera and oratorio soloist since her time at the College. Upon the completion of her Master’s degrees in Vocal Performance from the University of Illinois and Yale University, Panthaki has appeared with several ensembles, including the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Clarion Music Ensemble. Her accolades are numerous, and her work with the Trinity Church Wall Street Choir has now placed her in the prestigious category of Grammy-nominated musicians.

“The Choir and Orchestra of Trinity Wall Street is one of the premier, if not the premier, organization for Baroque music in New York City,” Panthaki said. “I got to know about the organization while I was a graduate student at Yale University. Trinity Wall Street held auditions for a selected group of singers since they were looking for soloists/choristers for their upcoming season, and I was one of those invited to audition.”

Panthaki was chosen to collaborate with the Choir after her successful audition that showcased her skills.

“My first collaboration with them took place within a couple of months, with the recording of Handel’s famous work, “Israel in Egypt” – this is the one which was nominated for a Grammy last month,” said Panthaki. “One of their regular sopranos was unable to sing the recording because of a last-minute emergency, and they needed someone with very good sight-reading skills and a thorough knowledge of Baroque musical style to fill the position on very short notice, with essentially no rehearsal time.”

Panthaki’s skills that landed her this gig were undoubtedly built on the solid foundation West Virginia Wesleyan gave her.

“My musical experiences at West Virginia Wesleyan were absolutely crucial in preparing me for a successful career in music,” state Panthaki. “Dr. Larry Parsons gave me several solo opportunities. There is no substitute for practical solo experience in front of an audience, and this was a really valuable part of my education. Dr. Parsons and Dr. Melody Meadows both set a very high, uncompromising standard of musical excellence that I was eager to try to achieve.”

Moore, professor and Department Chair at Wesleyan, came to the college in 2006. He is the director of Bands and Jazz Ensembles at the college and is also the brass studies coordinator. Aside from his work at Wesleyan, Moore also plays an active role in the Pittsburgh Jazz scene and as a guest clinician around the extended area.

Moore’s involvement in the Bob Mintzer Big Band stemmed from his work with Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, a non-profit organization that hosts a cultural center in the city. Minzter contacted the record label, MCG Jazz, looking for a few musicians to fill spots for his album.

“The music I played on Mintzer’s album was some of the most difficult I have seen,” stated Moore. “The album was recorded live over a two-day show after one rehearsal, which is not uncommon in the music world. All of us knew that the music and project was something really special, even before the album was released.”

Moore understood the role he was asked to fill, and he knew this was an opportunity he could not pass up.

“I was just a cog in a wheel with 17 other guys, so I do not want to misrepresent the role I played,” Moore said. “I just got a call for a gig, and I showed up. It was unreal to sit there and be a part of something like that, and all I did was play third trumpet.”

A cog, however, is a very important part of the operation, and without it, the wheel would not move. Moore was grateful to play that small but important role in Mintzer’s album because West Virginia Wesleyan is reaping the benefits.

“I was able to get tickets to the show for some students for the educational experience,” stated Moore. “I know my role here at the college is to bring students as many educational experiences as I can. And now our students have a tangible connection to Mintzer and his music, and that is more important than anything. I wanted to make a connection from which the xollege could benefit.”

The Grammys are celebrating their 55th year with the awards show scheduled for Feb. 10 on CBS.