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UTA A Cappella Choir earns accolades for Gershwin weekend at Meyerson Symphony Center

Monday, January 25, 2016 • Media Contact: Kristin Sullivan

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Senior soprano Jenna Zarafonetis already had one surreal concert experience in the past year as a member of the UTA A Cappella Choir: backing up Mick Jagger on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in June when the Rolling Stones played AT&T Stadium.

So stepping out to sing a short solo from “Porgy and Bess” at the Meyerson Symphony Center this weekend as part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Gershwin’s Greatest Hits performance might have seemed like second nature.

“I’ve performed in front of a big group of people before, but the Meyerson is different. It’s so prestigious,” Zarafonetis said. “There’s a certain feeling that you get when you walk in there. It’s hard to describe.”

Zarafonetis was joined by 46 other members of the UTA A Cappella Choir, the University’s premiere choral ensemble. Among her fellow vocalists was tenor Dylan Elza, a senior from Forney, who also had a solo.

“Most of us are most familiar with small performance halls, but performing at the Meyerson was a very big deal,” he said. “It gives you a different perspective and shows you what it takes to perform at that level. It makes me want to work harder and be ambitious.”

A Fort Worth Star-Telegram review of the performance added: “A surprising standout was the University of Texas at Arlington a cappella choir, directed by Karen Kenaston-French. They were terrific.” The Dallas Morning News said the student group “dispatched choral duties with polish and pizzazz.”

It was the UTA A Cappella Choir’s second performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in recent years; the choir last appeared with the symphony at the Meyerson in 2012.

The symphony typically performs with its own chorus. But following a busy holiday season, the symphony needed an alternative and contacted Kenaston-French for the Gershwin show.

“They remembered us as strong collaborators,” said Kenaston-French, the choir’s conductor, an associate professor of music and director of choral activities. “This kind of success builds over time.”

Tom Brekhus, Dallas Symphony Orchestra production manager and orchestra personnel coordinator, said the UTA group was recommended as a highly capable chorus “that would be expertly prepared to participate in our production.”

“Our previous experience with the choir had been excellent, and it was a pleasure collaborating again with this exceptional collegiate chorus,” Brekhus said.

UTA A Cappella choir members are selected by audition each fall and perform formal concerts each semester, tours and represent the University in festivals and workshops.

The choir performs a diverse array of challenging choral literature from the Renaissance to the present, with special emphasis on compositions from the 20th to 21st centuries.

Choir alumni are achieving success around the world, among them mezzo-sopranos Raehann Bryce Davis and Tesia Kwarteng, who are both pursuing professional music careers; Paul Tucker, director of choral activities at the University of Kansas; and composer and conductor Victor Johnson, who teaches at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and is the longtime director of the Children’s Choir of Texas.

Zarafonetis was a standout vocalist at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas and later at Richland Community College, where she met Kenaston-French during a workshop that “sealed the deal” for her career aspirations.

Performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was nerve-wracking, Zarafonetis said, adding, “I had to breathe low to make sure my heart wasn’t racing too much. There were people there who know Gershwin, and I didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Performing at the Meyerson, she said, “definitely gives UTA an edge and builds up our reputation.”

Elza agrees: “We’re getting our name out there, and that raises the profile of the school.”

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at