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"North Carolina's Classical Music — The Moravians" was the advertised title of this concert by the Greenville Choral Society, Jeffrey Ward and Lisa Stockard, directors. That title sounds like somebody's unpublished thesis. So did the concert, which consisted of twenty, count 'em, twenty lovely little Sunday morning anthems, all accompanied in this concert by a well-played but miserable little upright piano in the Peace Presbyterian Church. With a concert time of 80 minutes, that averages just four minutes from the start of one to the start of the next. Along with the clatter of a church upright, maybe it sounded more like choir practice than a thesis. (The church choir I sing in doesn't rehearse in dinner suits with black tie nor handsome black formal dresses, and our director doesn't wear white tie and tailcoat, so maybe I am stretching the parallel just a little.) The chorus was handsomely turned out.
Research suggests that most Moravian choir lofts usually contained a variety of wind and string instruments that would be used with the organ to accompany choral music. And while the three-minute Sunday morning anthem is a wonderful thing for Sunday morning, to take twenty of them out of liturgical context, and to strip them of their proper accompaniment, too, is a cruel thing to do to both these bijou little pieces and the audience as well.
A different tack that needs to be taken about this concert is to tell how very, very good the singing was — there is no doubt about that! The chorus was as well-prepared for this concert as they were for their excellent performance of Haydn's Creation in May of this year. My notes from the performance say things like "careful and focused," "good attack," "excellent blend," "precise cut-offs," "good development of the long lines," "lovely quartet; good balance and voice matching!" That was true throughout the performance. The singing and conducting were superb. Peace Presbyterian Church, a new building of brick and wood, with a high ceiling and lots of corners to break up the sound, was an acoustically superb place to hear the Concert Choir and the Chamber Chorale. (There will always be serious stage-management problems in any church. Sunday was no exception.)
There is no doubt that putting on a piece like The Creation, with orchestra, taxed the Greenville Choral Society to the limit; still on Sunday it was a shame to see so much effort expended so unevenly. It impresses me about like calling in Yo-Yo Ma to start your iPod. The music begs to be sent back to the choir loft and reserved for Sunday morning, and then with proper accompaniment. But who has the funds to hire musicians for three minutes?
I am grateful to the Greenville Choral Society for their discipline and professionalism and for the lovely music that they make. And the music certainly was lovely; I hope all these musicians sing in church choirs and that they all take these pieces back to their choirs and ask them to sing them often on Sunday morning. And I really do look forward to hearing the Greenville Choral Society again soon. For their fine work, bravo!