LU choirs to explore diversity, Americana

Paul Karner

Lawrence University Choirs will present “A Slice of Americana” in Memorial Chapel Friday night. The Lawrence Concert Choir and Chorale, under the direction of Professor Richard Bjella, along with the Women’s Choir, under the direction of instructor Phillip A. Swan, are performing works by a number of American composers and American folk music in a program that explores the multifaceted roots of American traditional and contemporary music. Specific highlights of the evening will include a traditional Shaker tune featuring the Lawrence Brass Quintet, two settings of American poems – Robert Frost’s “A Girl’s Garden,” and e.e. cummings’ “maggie and milly and molly and may” – and a roaring gospel number entitled “Job, Job” by Stephen Hatfield.
While the focus is on American music, “A Slice of Americana” will be remarkably diverse. “We’re doing a wide variety of music,” Bjella said Wednesday. “It’s sort of a wild journey.” The program also extends beyond purely American music, featuring a couple of foreign pieces which Bjella feels will provide insight into American ideals. The most striking piece on the program is undoubtedly Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ “Raua Needmine,” meaning “a curse upon iron.” This foreboding piece warns against the dangers of industrialization and the invention of destructive machines toward the persistence of truth.
The Concert Choir and Women’s Choir started the year off in high spirits as they have begun preparations for their performance at the American Choral Directors Association convention. Both choirs submitted audition tapes last year which earned them two out of five available slots from a competing pool of 37 choirs. Swan stated, “it’s sort of the equivalent of the NCAA.” The Women’s Choir is the largest it’s ever been at 47 singers – two thirds of are freshman. Swan is taking this change in stride, and is optimistic about the coming year. “It’s going to be a brand new experience for all of us.