February, or the month when a heavenly host of choral greatness descended upon Westminster

Note: This entry was delayed due to to technical difficulties.    Better late than never!
I can’t believe it has been an entire month since I last brought you a report of WC adventures. In the past month, we’ve been graced with the presences of choral dignitaries from around the world, a new semester has begun, and we’ve nearly learned an entire program.  In light of this massive amount of ground to cover, I’ve decided to bring you the first installment of this semester’s adventures backwards. As an aged senior (weep), I’m aiming to manipulate time as best I can (also I’m prone to forgetting things.)

Yesterday, Dr. Miller was away conducting the Maryland all-state choir, so fittingly, things got rather spirited back in Hillman. In order to prepare for our impending Spoleto preview performance, we had “The Jephte Olympics,” a memorization-fest hosted by GA Max Nolin. Wild and evocative madrigalisms ensued, alongside some tasteless interpretative dance, festive throwing of candy, and a bit of learning. While team Israel did indeed defeat team Ammon (reflecting the tragic reality of the tale), unnamed parties who are definitely not Tom and Olivia, mysteriously replaced the scores with infinity signs, reflecting our immeasurable growth through this arduous experience.

On Wednesday, we had the pleasure of being visited by Chris Watson, the tenor from the renowned Theatre of Voices. As Theatre of Voices premiered David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, the other half of our March concert, he graciously helped to guide us through the work’s minimalist intricacies. A brief Q and A afterwards allowed us to learn more about the ensemble’s partnership with David Lang, Watson’s own professional journey, and the intangible aspects of the work.

Two weeks ago, it was Ryan Dalton-fest at Westminster. Ryan, one of our esteemed Performance Management staff members, attended St. Olaf College and received earlier choral training at the American Boychoir School. Incidentally, both the St. Olaf Choir and the concert choir from the American Boychoir came to visit the school in the second week of the semester.

The visit from the St. Olaf Choir felt like a historic event to the members of the Symphonic Choir. There are innumerable connections between Westminster and St. Olaf, stemming from Westminster’s earliest history. To listen to and sing with such an impressive ensemble of our musical and choir-loving peers was an indescribable event.   Note:  view a brief video clip of both ensembles singing “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” from Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem on Facebook.

Westminster Symphonic Choir and the St. Olaf Choir

Westminster Symphonic Choir and the St. Olaf Choir

One of the most meaningful aspects of the visit for me, however, was discovering a personal connection to the St. Olaf Choir through their tour repertoire. On my first WC tour in 2013, the choir performed several works by alumnus Daniel Elder. This tour brought us to Wazyata, MN, where a multitude of St. Olaf Choir members attended our concert. Lo and behold, on their tour program for this season, they brought us their interpretation of “Lullaby,” one of Elder’s works that we performed on our 2013 tour. When they sang the song at their concert that evening, I shamelessly sobbed through the whole piece. I am so deeply grateful that “Lullaby,” a song that is greatly important to myself and many other Westminsterites, could be shared by an ensemble that connects to it on the same level.

And so I bring you back to the beginning of the semester, our visit from the American Boychoir. Rather than simply recounting the whole experience, I will bring you a vignette. So that we might better learn about their musical process, the choir did one of their usual sight-reading games for us. After randomly selecting a four-part hymn by number, the boychoir was given a chance to suggest challenging ways to sight-read it. One of the boys, who was either in eighth grade or younger (as that is the age range of the concert choir), suggested that they sing the hymn in Locrian mode.

Locrian. Mode.

Suffice it to say, the future of choral music is strong with these younglings.


Until next post (which may or may not include some Brahms), I hope you enjoy your four-part sight-reading adventures in the modes of your choosing.

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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