By McKenzie Fetters
What a wonderful thing it is to have your expectations not only met but also exceeded entirely. Such was my experience on Friday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. at the Lawrence University Choir Concert. The Viking Chorale, Concert Choir and Cantala presented a sublime program titled “Let Peace Then Still the Strife,” which included themes of perseverance through hardship, maintaining hope through struggle and finding peace at the end of all things.
The Viking Chorale started the night off with a sweet, plaintive tune called “A Flower Remembered,” dedicated to the victims of an earthquake in Fukushima, Japan in March of 2011, according to the program notes. Next, they sang “Indodana,” a South African piece in a different language, which included repetition of a phrase “hololo.” The program notes explained that “hololo” actually embodies the sound of crying and correspondingly has no translation. Chills crept down my spine during this piece as the sound of brilliantly clear voices wailing “hololo” rose and arched toward the ceiling.
The Viking Chorale finished off their set with the song “It Takes a Village,” which reminded everyone in the audience of the common theme of coming together. Overall, the pieces in this section of the concert particularly served as a delightful memorial to human suffering while paying homage to history.
The Concert Choir gave an equally compelling and engaging performance, beginning with a centuries-old sonnet set to music titled “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners.” This song of repentance was solemn and sad but had its hopeful moments. A similar melody, “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” followed, and then came the simple, pretty harmonies of “Alleluia.” Last was the “Säkkijärven Polka,” a song that, according to the program notes, was played thousands of times in Viipuri, Finland during World War II because it temporarily disabled mines that the Soviets had programmed to respond to certain chords played on a specific radio frequency.
Performed with warring choreography and many shouted “hey’s,” I found it interesting that the choir seemed to be making light of this story that, although hopeful in the end, was very serious in premise. It then occurred to me that perhaps that was the point: they were combating the gravity of the backstory of the song with laughter, dancing and shouting. It reminded me of the Mark Twain quote, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” The Concert Choir proved this statement to be true once again as they celebrated the thwarting of the Soviet mine plan and the use of music to battle and win out against evil and hatred.
Finally, Cantala finished the night off with vigor, singing “Balada I” from Ainadamar, an operatic selection; an Emily Dickinson poem set to an exquisite minor piece called “Indian Summer,” which embodied the spirit of the fall season; and “Shar Ki Rhi,” a song that emphasized looking towards the present and future and not to the past.
However, the last song of the Cantala set remained the most special of all: “A Blessing of Cranes,” a composition by Abbie Betinis that included a poem by Michael Dennis Browne. This piece was dedicated to a young Japanese girl named Sadako, who, after becoming ill following radiation from the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima, folded over 1,300 paper cranes in hopes of mending both her own bodily illness and the wounds of the world from the war. In the spirit of Sadako, members of the choirs folded paper cranes, resulting in over 1,000 cranes that were used to decorate the auditorium and were handed out to each audience member upon entry. My favorite piece of the night by far, “A Blessing of Cranes” brought tears to my eyes as the music of the singers brought the beautiful text to life while leaving spaces for contemplation in between the notes.
Finally, all of the choirs performed “Let Peace Then Still the Strife,” standing up one by one to join in the tune started by a single soloist until at last everyone was singing at once. For this piece, the Concert Choir and Viking Chorale surprised all balcony audience members by arranging themselves in the aisles, singing forward and truly enveloping everyone in the auditorium in complete surround sound.
Bringing a smile to my face and tears to my eyes on multiple occasions, I found the concert to be incredibly moving and refreshing on multiple levels. All of the songs contributed nicely to the overall theme of using music to heal wounds and overcome obstacles, providing a program that was both cohesive and meaningful. I will wait with eager anticipation for the choirs’ next concert, “Journeys” on Friday, Nov. 13.