Lawrence choirs host “Experience Weekend

Kristina Ruff

Ask any of the choir members about last weekend’s concert, and they will tell you it was quite an experience. No, really. This past weekend, Lawrence hosted students from high schools across the country for its annual “Experience Weekend.” These students joined Lawrence students to work with the acclaimed Yale music professor Simon Carrington in a combined concert with LU choirs.
The concert opened with the Viking Chorale singing “Deus Misereatur.” Featuring four male soloists, the piece was beautiful and very moving. Cantala followed the Viking Chorale and opened with the popular favorite “Ave Maria.” While this piece is always beautiful, Cantala’s performance of it was especially fitting – they sang it divided on opposite sides of the chapel balcony, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Philip Swan in the back of the upper level.
To those seated on the floor – with the risk of sounding rather quixotic – they were the incarnation of angels on high. The rest of their pieces were more light-hearted, with the exception of “Choral Hymns” from the Rig Veda. This was an intense piece conveying the dark side of the sun, immortal fire and a funeral chant “converging in hope.” Cantala closed their portion of the English-themed concert with this piece, a piece that, while rather uncharacteristically written by Gustav Holst, was translated by the erstwhile composer from the original Sanskrit.
The song was performed beautifully; it provided an intense and climactic ending to Cantala’s performance, and their director, Swan, was “thrilled that the women could present such a variety of challenging choral repertoire … with such excellent musicianship.”
Following Cantala, Concert Choir opened with “Knowee.” This piece was absolutely incredible. The four female soloists, who carried lanterns around the audience in the pitch-black chapel, were banshees in the night … albeit perfectly tuned ones. The supporting music of the rest of the choir built throughout the song to reach a chord that, amazingly enough, sounded exactly like an organ. There were many audible whispers from the audience, some asking “When did the organ come in?” not realizing that the sound came from the choir.
One audience member mentioned that the hair on her arms stood up whenever the women “screamed.” After the overtones at the end of the piece, the choir transitioned into a continuum of pieces unbroken by applause. While it was slightly difficult to tell when one piece ended and the next began, the rest of their performance, ending with “How Can I Cry?” and “Arrestinga,” was wonderful. Concert Choir’s amazing performance and impressive choreography received great applause.
Last, but certainly not least, was the Experience Weekend Choir. Introduced by Director of Choral Studies Richard Bjella as one of the “few educators who can combine artistry with music” while keeping his ego “in check,” Simon Carrington was an easy favorite with the choir members. “I really liked the way he taught … he made sure we knew how to sing the songs with emotion,” said Lawrence Freshman Xiang Li, “well … and I really liked his accent.”
Viking Chorale joined forces with high school students from around the nation, and practiced for 14 hours over a period of three days to get the music ready for the performance. Many members praised Carrington for his ability to “go slowly and make sure that every phrase, every sentence, sounded beautiful.”
The final song, described as a “gathering of the masses” by Carrington, was “Lord, Thou Hast Been our Refuge.” This piece made great use of the Chapel’s space – the audience was surrounded by music on all sides. The full emotive force of so many voices in that strong finale swept the audience out of their seats and into a standing ovation as soon as the concert was finished.