Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Music / November 5, 2009

Choir tackles pieces in multiple languages

The Knox College Choir showcased its extraordinary talent in Kresge Hall for their fall concert on Sunday, Nov. 1. While Knox College Choir member and senior John Eisemann characterized the typical fall concert as “a first statement that can be used to judge how far the choir will progress throughout the year,” this particular concert exhibited a great deal of diversification of musicality.

Aside from representing five different languages, the use of soloists and intense accompaniment brought the concert a sense of vibrancy that enthralled an audience consisting of members of the Knox and Galesburg communities alike.

In order to put together such a unique fall choir concert, it was necessary for all choir members to contribute to a “pretty fast and intense learning experience,” said sophomore choir member David Noyce.

The Knox College Choir Board President, senior Margaret Wehr, described the nature of the choir’s productivity as “the best fall that I’ve ever experienced. It’s usually a stretch to learn all the music in time, but this year we learned all the pieces that we intended, so we were able to spend more time on polishing them.”

Wehr attributes the success of the educational experience to the group dynamic of the choir.

“The new members were quick to learn. There is usually a lull in which new members are not used to the way we run rehearsal. We also have a large senior class this year filled with leaders,” Wehr said.

Just as the choir members should be applauded for their weekly four-hour rehearsals and the chamber singers for their six-hour per week rehearsals, director Laura Lane played an irreplaceable role in the choir concert.

“The director needs to know the piece 100 percent inside-out and plays a great role in the performance quality of the concert,” said Eisemann.

Lane said, “I do all the administrative jobs connected with arranging the concert, with the help of the Choir Board: choosing the music, studying the scores and preparing rehearsals, rehearsing the choir, printing the program, auditioning soloists, working with the accompanist, working with the choral librarian, and running sectionals [to name a few].”

With a diverse program there certainly comes a degree of challenge. According to Lane, “The most difficult pieces of the show were ‘Ring out Wild Bells,’ because the rhythms were difficult and it’s for double choir. We had to split the 55-voice group in half, essentially creating two choirs each with their own music. ‘Venite’ is very difficult rhythmically as well. ‘A Child’s Prayer’ took a lot of fine-tuning to get the balance, sound and intonation exactly right.”

Despite musical challenges posed by the diverse program, Lane went on to say, “Each piece in the program had its own character, and each piece had a slightly different style from every other piece, which was fun to try to capture.”

While singing in multiple different languages played yet another role in testing the strength of the choir, the concert’s repertoire would not have been as impressive without its compilation of Latin, Italian, Greek and Creole songs.

“It’s great to have the experience of singing in different languages because it shows how music is so pervasive in different cultures,” said Wehr. “I am committed to doing pieces in their original languages, rather than in translation. I want the students to experience as many different styles, or types of music, as possible during their four years.”

Speaking to the challenge of adding the pronunciation of foreign words to a complex repertoire, Lane said, “It takes a lot of patience for the choir members to get to where they are comfortable with foreign languages, especially ones they haven’t done before [like Creole].”

Perhaps the most crucial part of putting together this year’s strong fall concert was establishing a sense of community among members of the choir.

“It is important to be able to trust the director, the accompanist, individual members within your section, and the other sections within the choir to do their part,” said Eisemann.

In this particular fall concert, Wehr explained how the choir worked to establish an excellent group dynamic through its work on one piece specifically.

Wehr said, “In the ‘Child’s Prayer’ piece, by James MacMillan, we discussed the meaning of the piece in a group setting. It was the first time that we separated ourselves from the music and decided what the piece meant to us.” Engaging in conversation about the piece fostered a sense of trust among choir members that cannot be achieved by any other means.

The choir’s next major task will be to prepare for its upcoming tour in Barcelona. The 400 years of music represented by this past fall concert will live on during the tour.

Eisemann said, “On tour, the choir will play to the strengths and weaknesses of the group. The program will be diverse and more challenging. The music will also be entirely a cappella (without accompaniment).

Eisemann added, Going on tour will give the choir another opportunity to grow and continue to build a strong group dynamic. As the tour progresses and choir members become closer and more intimate with the program, the music gets better and better!”

Elise Hyser

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