by Jackson Sveen

Passion for one’s work is something that many of us strive for, but some of us won’t be lucky enough to achieve.

Chris Gilliam, Davidson College’s newly appointed director of choral activities, brings a strong devotion for music and teaching.

Before coming to Davidson, Gilliam served as the associate director of choral activities and associate professor of voice at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., where he taught undergraduate and graduate voice, choral arranging, and conducted three choirs.

Gilliam now directs the three choirs at Davidson: The Chorale, the premier choral ensemble; The College Choral Arts Society, a town group that collaborates with Davidson student, faculty and staff singers, to perform major works with members of the Charlotte Symphony and professional soloists; and the Davidson Singers – the student group in the arts society.

His love for music developed from experience as a student growing up in the Jonesville-Elkin area of the North Carolina mountains. It started in the fifth grade when Gilliam’s teacher, Patty Grant, was holding tryouts for the play, “Peter Pan.”

Grant “was my start in music and the reason why I am in the arts today,” Gilliam said.

She gave all her students an audiotape with an assignment for auditioning. Gilliam was so motivated by the assignment that he memorized a song and also choreographed a full dance and got the role of Peter Pan.

Later, Gilliam was in “The Sound of Music,” “Oliver” and a number of other collaborations.

In high school, Gilliam got into the choral program where his teacher Shannon Poindexter took him under her wing and became a mentor and friend. Gilliam also got into the high school marching band where he played drums, eventually becoming a drum major for three years. He also played trumpet and trombone in the jazz band.

“I knew that music would be my career,” he said. “It was the thing that fit and gave me purpose and direction.”

Now, he wants to channel that passion and pass his experiences to his students and make Davidson’s choral activities nationally recognized.

Unlike Northwestern, none of Gilliam’s 25 students in the choral group are music majors, so their participation is not based on a scholarship or a grade.

“For many of these students, music is not their purpose. They are going to be medical professionals, influential in government, those kind of things. For me, music gave me a direction; a way to improve myself and engage my community,” he said.

“I want to share that with them and let them see what music can do for them. (Music) is something that provides an outlet for their studies and nourishes their very soul. Mathematics, biology and chemistry can be very brainy, but they need something that engages their heart.”

Visit Davidson College Music Department website for information on choral activities, including a schedule of performances open to the public.

Send an email to Gilliam at to learn to become involved in the community’s College Choral Arts Society.