Instincts are crucial for Nathan Reiff. They pulled him from a chemistry major at Yale University into something entirely different; an eventual Bachelor of Arts in music and up through a doctoral degree in music. A similar instinct led Reiff through various career paths – academia, a middle school music teacher in Italy, and arts administrator – back to his original, childhood love for singing and choirs.
“I kept coming back to the thing that I loved the most,” Reiff said. “There were times in my academic journey, like when I got to college, I didn't think that [music] would be what I wanted to do as a career. I just found that I couldn't stay away from it. I'm very glad that I eventually listened to that instinct that kept pushing me back toward music as a career.”
Instinct led Reiff to Swarthmore – drawn by a close-knit and passionate community and a welcoming reception by faculty and students – where he’s now a lecturer and new Director of Choirs, leading the Chorus and Garnet Singers. He felt something special in Swarthmore’s devotion to singing and making music and continues to as he works with students to build community and experiment in the choirs.
“It was clear that there was something really special about the way that the people whom I met during [the interview visit] were committed to the experience of singing [and making music] together or teaching people who are interested in making music,” Reiff said.
Reiff credits much of his career inspiration to his “wonderful teachers,” and hopes to continue that as a teacher himself. As a self-described voracious listener, Reiff is working to bring a wide range of music to the choirs, much of it incorporating the newly restored organ in the Lang Concert Hall this semester and brand new compositions by students and professional composers. He hopes every member will feel a deep connection with something they sing in each performance.
“The choir has always been where I felt the most at home,” Reiff said. “Some of my very, very favorite communities have been choirs that I’ve been a part of and most of the people that I'm closest with in life are people that I've met through singing together. I have always loved that being a part of a choir is a way to express yourself and to share something of yourself but also a way to connect with other people.”
Reiff’s love for the community of choral music extends to helping others in need. He worked for many years with a nondenominational choir that performs in hospice care settings, hoping to provide comfort and support to those at the end of their lives and their family members.
“The end-of-life experience is unbelievably complex and emotionally raw for everyone involved,” Reiff said. “It might seem counterintuitive, but a group of people who come in, even if we're all strangers to you, can through the practices of this choir…be almost part of the environment…and provide some music that can connect with people who are experiencing the end of their life or the people who love them.”
Reiff is committed to making the choral community experience accessible to all, on and off campus. He is a founding member of Cambridge Common Voices, a neurodiverse choir focused on making music welcoming to everyone. Through his work there, he has realized how much of “normal practice” in choral settings presents barriers to interested prospective members, such as the room set-up, repertoire, the language used by a conductor, or the sheet music itself. At Swarthmore, he’s hoping to use this knowledge to make singing in choir as accessible as possible to new members without prior experience. He feels a choir is a unique group on a campus for any student to join, regardless of major or background, and a space that can provide students a chance to gather, restore, and connect in the midst of a busy class and activities schedule.
“It's very important to me that the choir be a joyful place for anyone who wants to participate and that if anyone on campus or even in the larger community feels that they have something to share and wants to be a part of that space, [we] create a welcoming space for them,” Reiff said.
Reiff hopes to continue to strengthen the choir communities beyond their function as registered classes through events such as field trips to Philadelphia to watch professional performances and pot-luck dinners. He has started to learn from students what they are interested in exploring, and has already begun to feel the power of the group. During one of the first Garnet Singers rehearsals, while singing ‘Blessed Be’ by arts activist Melanie DeMore, Reiff felt the group’s passion and support fueling the instinct within that led him to a choral career.
“I think that it's really wonderful to be a part of something bigger than any one person,” Reiff said. “To be able to contribute to a collective effort in that sort of way is really special.