Upon arriving to Kresge Recital Hall, choir direcor Laura Lane ensured that every audience member received two slips of paper with “Today, I will” typed upon them. Kresge hosted the renowned NOVA Singers for a night of musical diversion under Lane’s direction. Besides the phrase being the name of the program, Lane promptly explained the purpose of the slips—for attendees to fill in the blank. She encouraged audience members to write down how they could change the world in whichever unique ways they had the power to. Through this preview, Dr. Lane reminded all in attendance that it does not take a noteworthy individual to make a difference. This theme of impact continued throughout last Saturday as the choir sang songs which explored a range of issues, emotions and notes.
The NOVA Singers are known for their diverse programming and versatile sound. A NOVA performance is unlike that of a typical choir, as the a capella group has no apparent comfort zone for their sound. They embarked by embracing prolonged harmonies in low melancholic tones to sing Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Demon in my View.” Quickly, they changed the pace toward short, syncopated rhythms in a flowy, light-hearted ode to summer with Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “The Children’s Orchard.”
Their talent also defies monolingualism. In the French song “Sa Nuit d’Et” by Rainer Maria, the choir paralleled love to the night sky. In the Haitian song “Twa Tanbou” by Louis Marie Celestin, they explored a musical argument between three drums singing. The singers also brought justice to two works of Langston Hughes, “The Dream Keeper” and “Dream Variations,” which speak on the perils of the world which attempt to hinder dreamers. Their voices embodied the emotional weight of these pieces and acknowledged the difficulty with which people of color must navigate the world. Hughes dreamt of a place in which he could be and embrace who he was, a yearning that is hard to embody by means other than music. The topics explored by the NOVA Singers are some not always easily expressed through words; yet, as the saying goes and NOVA proves, “where words fail, music speaks.”
Past the various works, what was more impressive about the choir was their ability to perform each piece exquisitely—regardless of style. My favorite song of this program was “Passacaglia” by Sol Lewitt. The piece entailed an underlying melody and abstract, alien-like sounds; I was surprised humans could produce these perplexing noises, yet maintain a gorgeous resonance.
The song sounded calculating and culminated in a segment where each individual singer recited a numbered point, as well as stated how many lines intersected at the given point. For a person who struggles to appreciate math, the musical embodiment of an intricate graph enabled me to see the beauty in something typically beyond my own immediate understanding. This performance was the first time I heard music used to express the inherent beauty of a technical science. As these are solely my thoughts on “Passacaglia,” each individual song held its own thought-provoking idea, challenged the limits of musical expression and was beautifully executed by NOVA Singers.
Between the enriching words from Dr. Lane and the spellbinding voices of the ensemble, these lyrics from their performance of “River” by The Hopi Elders and E. E. Hale communicated what it felt like to be an audience member at a NOVA recital: “I am only one, but I am one / I cannot do everything, but I can do something / And because I can’t do everything / I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”
The thoughts and ideas of those who have struggled, wished and loved matched by the heartfelt tones of the talents, offered a holistically captivating experience—a soothing event for the weekend following midterm stress. Knox is lucky to have choir directors Dr. Lane of Knox College Choir and Chamber Singers and Tom Clark of Enharmonic Fire and Tri-Tones, who both contributed to the NOVA experience. NOVA Singers have brought 32 years of melodic magic to the surrounding area through their special shows. The largest takeaway I resonated with is to never underestimate the power of passion. Engage yourself in the experience the next time NOVA reaches Knox.