November 11, 2012
It is a very special time at Westminster – concert season! Aside from the Symphonic Choir, which performs at various venues around the Northeast, every ensemble has its first concert of the school year some time in November.
Chapel Choir, composed of the entire class of 2016, usually has a grand showing for Family Weekend. This performance is normally held in Princeton University Chapel, because Bristol Chapel on our campus simply cannot accommodate the enthusiastic, enormous audience for this concert. (What a wonderful problem – too many supportive families!) This year, though, Hurricane Sandy had other plans for Family Weekend, and the concert that was supposed to take place on Saturday, November 3 was rescheduled for Saturday, November 10, and the only venue available was our lovely but tiny Bristol Chapel.
I arrived early, offering my assistance to the box office manager and coordinators from the office of performance management, none of whom needed any help. So I sat in the chapel and listened to Dr. Amanda Quist prepare the Chapel Choir for the performance, and I was startled by the depth and breadth of the sound that emerged from such youthful faces. There was a moment in this brief polishing session that I won’t soon forget – the opening piece on the program was Zadok, the Priest by G.F. Handel, and features triumphant (LOUD) trumpet parts. For the first time maybe ever in the history of brass and choral relations, the trumpets were asked to play louder, because they could not be heard over the choir. Even after they started playing louder, the three professionals still could not be heard (they were equally astonished). Only when the players stood and pointed the bells of the instruments directly at the audience could they be heard in the fashion dictated in the score.
The crowds began arriving, and the seats starting filling. Quickly. Suddenly, the seats were full and there was still a line of parents and family members wrapped around the outside of building. At this point, all of the Westminster students in the audience gave up their seats (we had all arrived early – we know how well-attended this concert would be!) to parents and relatives of the singers, and we stood on the sides of the aisles. It wasn’t too long before it became clear that the standing room also needed to go to the families, and we (40-50 students) headed down into the lobby. We planned to listen to the music from the stairwell – or park ourselves outside the chapel and listen through the windows. Before that, though, we formed a ‘joy bridge’ with hands in the air, smiles bold as love, and cheered for every member of Chapel Choir as they emerged from the Fisk Room (in the basement of Bristol Chapel) and headed up to their very first performance at Westminster Choir College. Their looks of bewildered wonder were mixed with huge grins when they saw the support of the upper-class students, and they turned their energy into the reverberant delight of the finest choral singing.
The Westminster Choir also had its first concert this weekend. We performed our tour set for the first time, and it was just wonderful to share this music with an audience rather than keeping it to ourselves in rehearsal. You can listen to Dr. Miller talking about the program here. (It’s also in the Westminster-to-Go series on iTunes.) I will have many opportunities to be specific about the interesting music on our program during out tour in January, so for now I will share with you some pictures snapped before our performance this afternoon. (No pictures yet of the bass section – sorry!)
The weekend ended in the best possible way – with a concert by the Westminster Jubilee Singers, conducted by Taione Martinez. In addition to its rich repertoire of African-American spirituals, hymn arrangements and gospel songs, the choir performed classical works and a work from the Afro-Cuban tradition that featured some pretty amazing percussion. The choir sang joyfully and with every ounce of themselves, and the audience responded. The extensive use of instruments (electric bass, drum set, saxophone, guitar), especially in the second half, created an enlivening environment, and many members of the audience were on their feet as the soloists wailed and the choir, full-throated, answered jubilantly.
You may be asking yourself how one can possibly follow a weekend like this. At the Choir College, the answer is simple: with more concerts. Next week at this time, I will have performances by Westminster Williamson Voices, Schola Cantorum, and Kantorei to tell you about. Right now, though, I am going to bed.