Meditations on Music: LU Choir Concert

Cantala, The Lawrence University Women’s Choir, performs in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel for the LU Choir Concert.
Photo by Veronica Bella

This past Saturday, Oct. 8, Viking Chorale, Concert Choir and Cantala performed their first concert of the year. With programming that spanned many styles, in addition to compositional voices outside of the male heteronormative standard, the concert was a moving experience that is still sinking in as I write this review and rewatch the concert via the webcast. Curiously elusive in the moment, much of the concert did not resonate with me until afterwards. While some clicked for me later that night while chatting with other attendees in passing, most did not until the webcast triggered it. As I listened to the recording, the sounds I heard set off my memory of how each song resounded in Memorial Chapel, but my mind has processed a significant amount since the original perception, resulting in an enriched experience that leaves me moved by the beauty each choir brought forth.

Viking Chorale opened the concert, featuring many young soloists in two of their songs. One of these was “Being Alive,” from Soundheim’s “Company,” a personal favorite. I had performed in the pit orchestra for that show my senior year of high school, and while the ensemble lacked the theatrics and context of the rest of the musical, Viking Chorale certainly made up for it in raw power and emotion, causing chills down my spine and a desire in my heart. Following Viking Chorale was Concert Choir, my favorite set of the night, due to its rich and cohesive programming through each of the four diverse pieces. With songs ranging from reflecting social progress to the inability to express feelings to a loved one, the textures and timbres were just as varied. A supremely powerful moment in the whole concert was when the sopranos, split up into two groups on either side, echoed each other’s descending triplet figures, sighing and singing of observed beauty. This was during “Unleash the Beauty,” by Alexander Campkin, an absolutely gorgeous but also painful sonic exploration of feeling and desire. Cantala closed the concert, providing the only solely joyful, heartwarming selection of songs of the three. While drastically more positive and sappy than the previous songs, their set was an apt ending to the thematic concert, providing a sense of relief and hope.

The thoughts and critiques in the preceding paragraph were not immediately clear. My journey to loving this concert was peculiar to me, as I am used to musical experiences where the two things integral in music—listening and feeling—happen in one step, especially with improvisatory-based music, which, as I mentioned in my past column about ImprovisationaLU, is meant to be in the moment. When I see a concert, I usually derive the most meaning and feel the strongest connection to it during the first time through, which is sometimes the only time if there is no recording. As I listen to a specific recording, these often will lessen and weaken over time, however slightly. It is no fault of the music—it is mostly due to my emotions about it being so tightly bound to the moment it occurred. But this concert was different: I found my appreciation and love for it grow with the second listen. I do not know if it will keep on increasing, or increase and plateau, or any other possibility, but I can say without a doubt that there are few, if any, performances that have had a similar effect. It is hard to identify why this is the case, but I am sure had I not attended the concert and just watched the webcast, it would not have nearly been the same. It also would not have been the same had I just watched the webcast once, and then again after it started slightly sinking in.

My experience with this concert taught me a lot about myself as a listener, as well as a more general lesson that anyone reading this meditation can probably benefit from. More often than not, I am guilty of quickly dismissing choir, orchestra, symphonic band and wind ensemble concerts. Due to my musical upbringing and focus on the avant-garde, I have found it easy to not go to these concerts because I have preconceived notions that they will be boring, will not resonate with me like other music or a variety of other reasons I concoct.
Since realizing these facts about myself and learning that there is something to be gained from any concert no matter what, I started going to more of these concerts. However, sometimes these notions still ended up being true for me. I have begun to dig into why this happens and try to get the music to resonate with me by grabbing onto any little piece. This choir concert was different, and it signified a shift in me. I dug in, and continued by spending time with the music afterwards—almost desperately at points—in an attempt to find meaning for me within a music I used to feel I could turn away from easily. I did. I did find meaning and I loved it—I felt improved and ready to listen to more music of all kinds.

My point is that sometimes it takes time, effort and intent for music to click. There are so many variables involved, and sometimes you just have to inhale it through your ears hoping for an answer—and you may not always get a clear one – but one should at least try. I have talked to so many people who love choir music, some who have loved it for their whole lives and others who have just started to recently, and it is the music that really connects to them. They sometimes have trouble connecting—or even stomaching—the free, improvisational music I have been immersed in for most of my life. It is the other way around for me. I have tried connecting to choir music many times before and now, after several years, I feel like I am just starting to get it. I am not telling you to drown yourself in music that turns you off, or that my story is a model for all others no matter the music, but I hope it can show that love can grow towards a certain style or genre given the right attitude and motivation. It can be worth it, or it might not stick. That is fine. So much can be learned from just the journey of listening.

I am proud to go to a school that hosts music of all sorts and is still continuing to diversify. This fact cannot be taken for granted, though. More often than not, similar followings will show up to similar concerts. Utilize all of these musical experiences for yourself to open up your mind and ears. Coming from someone who did not think he would ever be thinking about a choir concert this much a few days after it happened, it is certainly worth a shot.