Messiah’s Rachel Cornacchio to direct virtual PMEA All-State Chorus

Messiah’s Rachel Cornacchio to direct virtual PMEA All-State Chorus

When Rachel Cornacchio, director of the Graduate Program in Music at Messiah University, was invited to direct the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) All-State Chorus, she was thrilled. The opportunity to conduct 240 talented high school vocalists from across the commonwealth was an exciting proposition. Then COVID-19 struck and gathering hundreds of students together on a stage was no longer feasible. But as schools and students adapted to virtual platforms, PMEA decided to move the event online–from auditions and rehearsals to the ensemble performance. The festival will be held April 14-17.

Fortunately, online conducting is something that Cornacchio has plenty of experience doing. Messiah University’s Graduate Program in Music is a predominantly online program, including the music conducting degree tracks. As a choral conducting instructor, communicating virtually with students is the norm and has been for a decade.  

However, Cornacchio was chosen before anyone knew how the pandemic would affect this school year. “I’ve observed Dr. Cornacchio conducting high school choirs at PMEA Festivals as well as choirs at Messiah and she chooses a variety of repertoire in her programming and is an excellent communicator,” said Mary Lynn Peters, PMEA All-State Festival coordinator. “She loves adventure and is an innovator.”

Cornacchio said that her challenge will be elevating the festival to be more than just another Zoom-like experience. “It is my hope that the music will excite them,” she said. The students will sing "Proud Music of the Storm," based on a poem by Walt Whitman and composed by Jake Runestad.

“I chose ‘Proud Music,’ as we have come to affectionately call it, because of the words. It is a call to arms to embrace what is around us and make the best of it through music,” she said. “It is a challenging piece with many layers; different musical sounds created through the use of texture, range, harmony and unison singing allow for many teachable moments.”

Messiah University's Wind Ensemble under the direction of James Colonna, director of bands and graduate studies in instrumental conducting at Messiah University, will provide the instrumental track for the choir. “Dr. Colonna and I work together on a daily basis; however, as strange as it may seem, we have never collaborated musically before,” said Cornacchio. “He is an amazing musician and educator, and I couldn’t be more excited to work with him on this project.”

Digital hosting and cloud-based music-notation software platforms will become a virtual stage bringing teens from across the commonwealth together. The students will meet virtually for a few hours each day during the All-State Festival to rehearse in sections and as a full ensemble. They will continue to practice with the expectation of recording themselves by the end of April. At that time, a recording engineer will piece together all of the videos, creating a virtual performance.

Choosing a cloud-based vendor for music notation capable of providing the services required to pull together so many moving parts, was extremely important. Peters said that one of the most challenging aspects was obtaining additional licensing for the required mechanical, digital and copyright permissions needed for a virtual performance.

PMEA will be premiering a virtual 2021 All-State Ensemble Concert with each of this year’s ensembles–chorus, jazz, vocal jazz, concert band wind ensemble and orchestra–in early July. Look for video links online at