I’m back from a wonderful post-concert dinner, and had some time to reflect on today’s festivities (could you call them anything else?), and also to hear from my dear mother, who was in attendance and loved every minute of it! Today’s Family Concert was a tremendous success. We’d not planned to have audience ascend to the balcony, but there was an exceptionally full house, and happy concertgoers were literally stacked to the rafters! There was an exciting spirit in the room as we filed into the hall, and I was so proud of all my soprano and alto colleagues as they sang the four parts of the beginning of Randall Thompson’s Ye Shall Have a Song, from The Peaceable Kingdom, which they offered in a hushed yet energetic pianissimo. I was a little worried about coordinating among 200 singers, but things remained together, and the piece’s two climaxes were absolutely thrilling to sing, and based on the looks on the faces of those we’d surrounded, they worked their desired magic.
We were then treated to a performance by our friends in the Bel Canto Children’s Chorus of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem of a beautiful Nigerian proverb (and what sounded like a Nigerian folk tune), smartly arranged by Joan Szymko, and conducted with panache by Dr. Joy Hirokawa. The Bel Canto singers had an elegant sound, much vocal dexterity, and an infectious sense of excitement (prepare to read that last descriptor several more times). Bel Canto has sent us a few choral scholars over the years, and you can see where their skills are so finely honed – Joy is doing wonderful things with these extremely fortunate young people!
Next, we heard from the Touring Choir of the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts, on a recent favorite of mine, Only in Sleep by the fiercely imaginative young (well, he’s younger than me) Latvian composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds. Ešenvalds is at the forefront of a number of composers from the Baltic states who have lit the choral world on fire, and our friends from Charter Arts gave an extremely moving performance of this piece, which beautifully sets a Sara Teesdale poem. I’m not sure who their soloist was, but she did an exceptionally lovely job with the demanding contours of her solos, and the choir accompanied sensitively, with much (again) infectious energy and sensitivity. They made it look easy – it is not. I got to chat with a few of the Charter Arts singers, and they’re also working on Ešenvalds’ Stars, another fantastic piece, as well as Eric Whitacre’s frighteningly tricky and tremendously evocative Cloudburst. Wonderful repertoire and excellent conducting from their director, David Macbeth.
The program continued with Händel’s magisterial coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest, which has one of the great introductions in all of the repertoire, followed by a rhapsodic entrance from the choir. I hope the sound of 200 massed singers stirred the audience as much as it did those of us singing. Our colleagues in the Bach Festival Orchestra supplied expert accompaniment, and I was thrilled for the young singers, most of whom were having their first choral/orchestral experience.
A select group of singers from The Bach Choir and each of the four high school choruses then sang Bach’s cheerful motet, Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230. This is trickier fare, and the young singers, buoyed by the more-experienced singers from The Choir zipped through it like it was easy. Again, I hope they enjoyed it – it surely was a lot of fun to hear as they moved through the various contrasting sections of the work.
Next, we heard from the Berks Youth Chorus Master Singers, under the skilled direction of William Snelling. They sang Sten Källman’s arrangement of the traditional Haitian song, Peze Kafé, complete with percussion, riveting movement, and a panoply of cross-rhythms and interesting textures. The work made creative use of ostinati, with some wonderfully expressive unisons (above the lower voices). They appeared to be having a ball, as those of us watching and listening certainly were!
Kelly Rocchi’s Nazareth High School Chorale was the last to be featured, and, like the rest of the young choirs, there was much infectious energy on display as they burned through Jin-Ling Tam’s arrangement of Magnificent Horses, which was based on a Mongolian folktale. Madelin Myers had a fierce flute solo over the whirling synchronicity of the voices, which she executed with much bravery and zest. The choral fantasia concluded with a riveting stomp, after which the extremely supportive and engaged audience launched into a lengthy ovation.
Before the concert concluded with the Gloria and Et in terra pax from the Mass in B-Minor, Greg Funfgeld, our fearless leader, offered an eloquent reflection on the pleasures of putting this concert together, and mentioned feeling, as many of us do, worried about the musical and artistic lives of the talented group of young singers who joined us, as well as the world that they will inherit. Like him, I do worry about those things, but I think that, hearing all the wonderful singing, and seeing the almost unimaginably high quality of the musical mentoring taking place between directors and students, those of us who worry can exhale quite a bit. Parents of children in these programs should feel very gratified (and blessed) by the opportunities afforded to their children, and I sincerely hope that they will continue to offer their support and encouragement in their children’s choral endeavors. Singing challenging music comes with large rewards and hones skills that will provide the developing singer with immensely rewarding, life-enriching experiences (and good singing comes with no expiration date). It also shapes them as future artistic leaders and consumers of the lively arts. This is no small thing – my own experiences singing have taken me to the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, the Royal Albert Hall, and many wonderful venues on two continents. I am profoundly grateful for those opportunities, and I’m full of admiration for those who carry the torch for the next generation, so that they may also experience the exceptional rewards of making choral music at high levels.
Finally, a few words of appreciation for Greg, for emceeing the entire affair, for working individually and collectively with each of the guest choirs, and for conducting this concert with so much care and devotion. In the video I shared in an earlier post, the students uniformly mentioned the pleasure and excitement of working with Greg. Because of their experience as singers, they were able to sense what all of us who sing for him know – that he is a person of uncommon skill, which he deploys in an especially loving way. His joy in leading this concert was irresistible. Also, an enormous tip of the hat to Jane Florenz, our choir manager, and the wonderful support staff from Lehigh University, who managed all of the mind-bending logistics with expertise and aplomb (and to our fantastic administrative staff for making all of this possible)!