In total, Viking Chorale, Cantala and Concert Choir, under the co-direction of Professors Phillip A. Swan and Stephen M. Sieck, performed 19 pieces in more than seven languages, all in less than two hours, in our very own Memorial Chapel. In other words, the choir concert on Friday, Feb. 28 was impressive in many ways.
A portion of Viking Chorale opened the concert with pieces they worked on at a Björklunden retreat, a song based on traditional African melodies and a contemporary piece from a Midwestern composer, “Si Si Si” and “Be like the Bird,” respectively.
The performance of these two pieces helped to remind us that Björklunden serves not only as a woodsy counterpoint to the Lawrence campus, but also as a fresh context in which to explore the concepts and techniques we learn in Appleton.
The remaining members of Viking Chorale joined the stage to finish their set with Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy, op. 44.” This piece is based on Walt Whitman’s poetry, and the choir’s power underscored the song’s urging tone for America to value education and the formative potential of its youth. Viking Chorale’s finale was a thought-provoking piece, to say the least.
Cantala performed next, singing nine pieces. Their set was multifaceted and, at times, profound. Among the nine was a haunting piece, “Seikilos,” by Joanne Metcalf, written in 2011 but based on an ancient Greek text. Lawrence University commissioned this piece, and Metcalf wrote it with the intent to “capture [Cantala’s] brilliant mode of expression.”
Other particularly memorable songs include “Warrior,” by Kim Baryluk, and “Sach’idao” from the Georgian suite “Kartlis Hangeb” by Otar Taktakishvili. “Warrior” is devoted to female empowerment. It was written as an artistic response to the murder of a woman by her stalker, and its lyrics represent a view of feminine metamorphosis, from fear of strength to recognition of the necessity of fortitude.
“Sach’idao” stood out because of the unique phonic qualities of the Georgian language and its energy. According to the program notes, this folk song would be performed “before a match to get the wrestlers and spectators excited”—in the context of a Lawrence University concert, the vigor of the piece succeeded in exciting the audience, as well.
Concert Choir was the last ensemble to perform. Their seven pieces were also diverse and ran the gamut of subjects. Some pieces were spiritual in nature, others comedic. I found “Priidite, poklonimsya” from Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil, op. 37” to be particularly passionately performed. “Gai Bintang” was playful and the singers’ stomping accentuated the whimsy of the work.
The most dramatic of their pieces was “Tutto nel Mondo è Burla” from Giuseppe Verdi’s farcical opera “Falstaff.” It featured ten student soloists, two wigs, a polished slow-motion fall, many giggles and the undeniable charisma of Lawrence’s performers.
After the final piece—Adolphus Hailstork’s “The Lord is my Shepherd Alleluia” from “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes”—a heartfelt standing ovation filled the chapel. The musicians’ work was marathon-esque in scope and they performed beyond gracefully under the pressure.
In addition to sharing the excellence of Lawrence’s choral talent with the community, this concert served as a preview of Cantala and Concert Choir’s performances in a conference for the North Central Division of the American Choral Directors Association in Des Moines, Iowa at the end of March.
Based on this moving concert, I have no doubt that the Lawrence University choirs’ high standard of musical quality is likely to be accurately and strikingly represented across state borders.