An appreciative audience in Jones Chapel, including a cheering section on the left side, heard a varied program of music for women’s voices sung by three groups ‒ the Meredith Chorus, Encore!, and the Meredith Chorale ‒ under the direction of Dr. Shannon Gravelle, with collaborative pianist Catherine Hamner.

The program was entitled “Perseverance of Flowers and Warriors,” which the written notes explained as being “comprised of texts that illustrate (people’s) belief that they can and will create change. The change might be a personal one or it might be on a more universal scale, but ultimately the change comes through actively committing to the task at hand.”

The three choral groups vary in size and in vocal experience: Encore! is a ten-voice group which brings animated enthusiasm to its singing; the Meredith Chorus numbers 18 women, and the auditioned Meredith Chorale consists of 22 singers.

Diction was excellent in all the groups. This was evident from the first work on the program, Randall Thompson’s “A Girl’s Garden.” Poet Robert Frost’s text was enunciated with delight by the chorus, singing this work and Amy Gordon’s “Lotus Flower” from memory. Felix Mendelssohn’s “Abendlied,” sung in German, provided a contrasting mood in singing which fit the serenity of the text. This group’s sometimes-immature tone will improve as they learn to open their mouths more to allow better egress of sound.

Encore! was up next, with their performances of Wyrd Sisters’ Kim Baryluk’s “Warrior,” a song which has been recorded by numerous college groups as well as professional ensembles. While the text of this song, as well as others on the program, was read by a member of the group, it would have been more helpful to have the lyrics printed so that one could reflect on them after the concert. The three-part harmony was well-sung, as was David Brunner’s “Yo le canto,” a love song which seemed to wander in pitch only in its final bar.

The Chorale opened its four-work section with Giovanni da Palestrina’s “Pars mea,” a setting of Lamentations 3:24 which was too short to allow the ensemble to smooth out some rough intonation. The tuning improved immediately with Andrea Ramsey’s “And They May Tell You,” a women’s manifesto proclaimed ardently with fine diction. Only some shrill singing from some of the 1st sopranos needs more work to make this group a very good chorus. The group’s German diction was as good as their English in Robert Schumann’s “Tamburinschlägerin,” another love song, but this time one of unrequitement. The Chorale‘s final work was Jocelyn Hagen’s “Starting Now,” a brisk journey illuminated by varied tempos, hand-percussion, and a colorful and rhythmic piano score excellently-played by Hamner, one of the finest collaborative pianists in this area.

The three groups combined in the evening’s final two works: the premiere performance of Meredith alumna Dr. Sue Klausmeyer‘s “Sing Unto the Lord a New Song” and Irving Berlin’s “Give me your tired, your poor.” Klausmeyer’s work, commissioned by the Meredith Music Department, sets the familiar Psalm text in flowing melodic lines and traditional harmonies. While a brief modulation in the piano score sounded out-of-place because of its triteness, these few bars could be re-written to match the character of the body of the work, which bears repetition.

Roy Ringwald’s arrangement of Berlin’s “Give me your tired…” let the singers and the pianist join in an impassioned reading of Emma Lazarus’ famous text, perhaps a reminder that this welcoming lyric graven on the Statue of Liberty still represents the soul of this country which cannot be extinguished, as Thomas Jefferson said, “…by the feeble engines of despotism.”

While there remains work to be done, it is clear that Gravelle has the Meredith singers on the right track. They sing with the spirit and understanding and the excellent diction that all reflect favorably on their conductor.