Friday, January 22, 2010
Carlisle Community Chorus delights with debut
At the reception that followed Tuesday evening’s debut performance of the Carlisle Community Chorus, singer Bea Shneider asked her friend Gertrude Behn what she thought of the chorus’s German in the Brahms song, “In Stiller Nacht.” Behn, a native of Germany, assured Shneider that it was “excellent – really very, very clear, crystal clear.” Audience member Sally Swift was all smiles; she had enjoyed the concert and said that her husband, Ed, was enthusiastic about singing with the chorus. Other audience members, and there were many, peppered chorus members and artistic director/conductor Megan Harlow with questions: “Is it a lot of work?” “How long did it take you to learn the music?” “How do I join?” Excitement was widespread and infectious.
And with good reason. This beginning intergenerational chorus has 43 members ranging in age from 12 to 85. The chorus is comprised not only of a range of ages, but also of musical ability and experience. Some of the youngest members are more experienced choral singers than their elders. Mike Hanauer, who has his share of gray hair, was heard to declare, “When I started with this chorus, I couldn’t even read music, much less try to sing it.” Many of the young singers are veterans or current members of Harlow’s Carlisle Public School choruses. Harlow says she misses her students when they move on to the high school, so emailed her former students to tell them about the chorus, and hopes to mine more of the talent at CCHS to enhance the Carlisle Community Chorus sound. Some of the adults in the chorus are rookies like Hanauer; others have sung with other choruses or in theater productions. What emerged from this mélange? The picture of teamwork and purpose and the sound of joy.
A challenging, but accessible program
The program the group performed on Tuesday ranged from “classic” popular tunes like the spirited opener, “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” by American composer Richard Rodgers and John Rutter’s arrangement of the traditional Transcendentalist hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” to Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina’s gentle “Adoramus Te” and the two national anthems, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “N’kosi Sikelel’i Afrika” (“God Bless South Africa”). British composer, Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the traditional round “Old Abram Brown” demonstrated the chorus’s mastery of dynamics and other song arrangements were as diverse as the selections themselves. Unison singing, which is actually very difficult with a large chorus required to match pitch and tone, was a feature of “It’s a Grand Night for Singing.” The chorus brought to it excellent concentration coupled with exuberance. Other arrangements varied in intricacy from canon (round) songs to complex harmonies and jazz and swing rhythms.
A fine fun factor
Harlow noted, “Because this is a community chorus, we invite the audience to join with us” in singing “Easy as Mi Sol Do,” by Joanne Hammil. She and selected student chorus members assisted the audience in learning the backup part of this peppy number, while the chorus covered the lead vocals. The fun factor, already cooking merrily, heated right up and bubbled over.
However, Harlow clearly saved the best for last, with the jazz arrangement of the American spiritual, “Oh, Sinner Man,” arranged by Becki Slagle Mayo. Here the chorus demonstrated how much they had learned in four short months of rehearsal, weaving among the rhythmic patterns and syncopation with apparent enthusiasm and aplomb. Nothing could have delighted the audience more.
A vision of shared purpose and relationships
A good performance does not happen without a vision and a lot of hard work. Harlow says that the idea for the chorus originated with her desire to conduct a certain repertoire for sopranos, altos, tenors and basses (SATB) that is pretty much out of the range of most of her middle school students. She noted that many intergenerational choruses are religion-based: church choirs, for example. At a performance of her Carlisle Middle School Advanced Choir for the Carlisle Council on Aging, she says, one sing-along selection was such a success that she began to develop the idea of starting a community chorus that, like religious choirs, would be “of mixed ages, because that fosters relationships and a shared musical purpose.”
Rehearsals: working toward performance
Rehearsals began four months ago, and Harlow spent a good deal of time in the first weeks exploring the way the voice works and how to sing in unison. The chorus discussed keeping the throat hydrated and ways to maintain the health of the voice. Harlow used an ELMO visual aid device to project music, as well as the movement of her hands over the score, on the wall, to discuss the phrasing and dynamics and “track” the music as it would be performed. She used the Internet application, Garage Band, to provide her chorus members with the ability to burn CDs of their particular voice parts. This enabled singers to practice at home, learning to sing independently and to work with harmonies. “They took the initiative [to practice] on their own,” she says. “Some even met each week to practice together.”
Three of the pieces performed at the concert were in foreign languages: Latin, German and a combination of three South African languages. Harlow consulted a native speaker for precision in the South African dialects and credits chorus member Carolynn Luby, a German teacher, with perfecting the German. “[The chorus] seemed to take to the Latin pretty easily,” she said, nevertheless they all worked hard to master pronouncing the lyrics correctly, using good vocal technique. Harlow says she has chosen a French song to tackle for the spring concert, and plans to continue using foreign language songs, varying styles and genres, different composers and time periods to enhance the chorus’s repertoire and increase the cultural experience for everyone.
“But it’s still all about the music,” she says. “I have a saying: if we can’t make music, it won’t be in a performance. If it’s just about the notes, there’s no point in performing the piece.” Harlow has particularly precise and expressive hands when she conducts, and the chorus had no trouble following her direction for rhythms and musicality. “I really believe that if you want a certain sound, you need a certain shape in your hands,” she says. “Rough hands, rough sound.”
More members welcome
At this “test” concert, 43 singers shaped their sound, and their performance brought in between six and ten new singers who will join the chorus in the spring. Harlow also plans to get the chorus together with her school choruses to sing “a wonderful piece I found called, ‘Peace on Earth and Lots of Little Crickets.’ It’s all about spreading joy through the Chinese idea of lucky crickets.”
She would like to invite all community members ages 12 and over to join in singing with the Carlisle Community Chorus this spring, and for all the timid tenors or bashful basses out there, there is a special need for men’s voices. Current chorus members attest that singing together is fun, creates friendships and spreads happiness. Harlow says, “Maybe we can make a little difference in this little corner of the world.” Bravo!
Carlisle Community Chorus members are: Suzy Balles, Molly Callahan, Abigail Chang, Carolyn Copp, Charlotte Copp, Mandy Finizio, Amma Frodigh, Heidi Harring, Reilly Harring, Jasmine Khayami, Anna Kolstad, Carolynn Luby, Hannah Merry, Eva O’Keefe, Rachael O’Keefe, Anina Selve, Kathy Simpson, Cairo Thompson, Renee Vienneau, Teresa Ventura, Michael Callahan, Peter Carmichael, Stephen Gemelli, Bob Goldsmith, Mike Hanauer, Jon Mayer, Barney Arnold, Lauren Bakewell, Kathy Balles, Karen Barton, Timm Brandhorst, Joanie Callahan, Rose Carmichael, Em Durlacher, Amy Fichera, Beatrice Shneider, Katherine Sorrows, Molly Sorrows, Diane Wesselhoeft, Robert Frodigh, Bo Graham, Gavin Saylor and Ed Swift.∆
Join the chorus
The chorus rehearses on Monday evenings at the Carlisle Public School, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Registration will begin at 6:00 p.m. prior to rehearsals on January 25 and February 1, 2010. All Carlisleans ages 12 and up are welcome to join, regardless of singing experience. The chorus is funded through member dues.
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