This year, the Lawrence University Concert Choir under the direction of Rick Bjella, was selected to sing at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). The selection itself was a great honor. The choir’s audition recording was selected over 300 other entries from around the world. In the end, the Lawrence Concert Choir was one of only four mixed-voice choirs chosen to perform at the convention.
As you can imagine, preparing for such a high profile performance presents certain challenges. What exactly can you program that will impress the toughest choir audience of all–3,000 choir directors from across the country and around the globe?! Over the years, Professor Bjella has gained a reputation for innovative, cutting-edge programming and he was certainly up for the challenge.
He created a program of seven pieces divided into three parts. He visualized the program as a single connected presentation uninterrupted by applause between each piece. The first section was made up of Knowee, an ethereal wash of tonal color written by Stephen Leek and based on Australian Aboriginal mythology; Te Lucis Terminum, a 16th century Catalan carol; and Svatba, a 19th century Bulgarian folk song. Part 2, consisted of Laboravi in Gemitu Meo, a haunting motet by 16th century Franco-Flemish composer Phillippe Rogier; then transitioning to La Voici! Voici La Quadrille! From Bizet’s Carmen. The set finished with Part 3, How Can I Cry, a gorgeous song written by Moira Smiley, honoring those who have defied oppression; and Arestinga, a popular Venezuelan tune with choralography (yes, you read that correctly) by Yvonne Farrow. She worked with the choir to add movement and dance to this thrillng closer.
The rich diversity of pieces was all tied together by Percussion Professor Dane Richeson, who provided not only background percussion for many of the pieces, but also beautifully crafted solo transitions between the works. True to his vision, Bjella created a program that flowed seamlessly through time, geography, and vocal styles. The challenging program showed off the very best of what the Lawrence Concert Choir could do.
And they certainly didn’t disappoint. Even before the last note had faded, the audience of jaded choir directors sprang to their feet, and their shouts of praise punctuated the thunderous standing ovation! People were blown away by what they had just witnessed, and they wouldn’t stop cheering. The applause continued even after the entire choir had left the stage. What a thrill for our students, and what an amazing confirmation for all of the hard work, time, and effort they put into creating this extremely challenging program.
Over the last two weeks, we have received hundreds of comments from giddy choir directors who had attended the performance. As we read through the mail, there were two clear themes: high praise for the brilliantly diverse programming; and higher praise for the choir who seamlessly moved from style to style and performed each one perfectly! If you like, check out some of the glowing comments from the mail we received. These letters speak volumes about the quality our Concert Choir, the quality of the entire Lawrence Conservatory voice department and the superb training they provide for our young singers, and finally the dedication and musicianship of our students. I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments!
So if you want to experience the very best the choral world has to offer, all you need to do is come to Lawrence for a visit!
Hope to see you soon!
Submitted on 15 March 2009
By Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music