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As an event it was worthy of acclaim and praise. As a concert it was a joyful delight stimulating both memories and anticipation. The Choral Society of Durham (nearly 140 strong) and some 80 high school singers and their choral directors from six Durham high schools joined forces for a concert that provided variety and excellence. Mike Truzy of Durham School of the Arts, Mary Doyle of Jordan High School, David Stuntz of NC School of Science & Math, Amy Daw of Northern High School, Jill Boliek of Riverside High School and Adam Smith of Southern High School and their charges invested considerable time and effort in bringing it all together for this program. Add the support and cooperation of many other school and community leaders, the officers and members of The Choral Society of Durham and, of course, the indefatigable champion of choral excellence, Dr. Rodney Wynkoop, and you have something to command attention.
The program in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus began with seven short pieces, broad in variety of style and challenge, from Renaissance to Baroque to contemporary sung by the Durham All-County High School Chorus. Jill Boliek, Riverside High School Director served as piano accompanist. The opening piece, “Followers of the Lamb,” a Shaker song, arranged by Philip Dietterich, was jaunty and underscored the importance of dance in the Shaker worship experience. Michael Horvit’s “Even when God is silent” is a setting of words scribbled on a wall by someone hiding from the Gestapo in the dark days of Nazism. The complete text is brief and worth noting: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when feeling it not. I believe in God even when God is silent.” Boliek doubled the chorus in this harmonically challenging piece that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, that night in 1938 when literally all hell broke loose against the Jews in Europe. It was deeply moving as sung by these young people and perhaps will leave a link with a horrible moment in history that should never be forgotten.
The Kyrie from Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Missa Dominicalis was sung unaccompanied and provided the choir with the glorious experience of singing in the musically pristine and ethereal mode of the music making of the Renaissance. It was well done. Next a rousing chorus from George Frederic Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus put some of the most popular music of the eighteenth century Baroque on the stage. “Sing unto God” was sung with energy and enthusiasm. Randall Thompson’s setting of the English folk song “The lark in the morn” was sung very nicely without accompaniment in Thompson’s harmonically rich romantic style.
George Gershwin’s “I’ll build a stairway to Paradise” arranged by Robert Page got Wynkoop into some moves you don’t often see him do. The Chorus sang well but did not seem to quite get into the 1920’s style jazz as much as Wynkoop did (and I understand he was subdued from what rehearsal had been). The first half of the concert concluded with “Ride on, King Jesus”, the traditional African-American spiritual, arranged by Robert De Cormier, a ubiquitous name among classical and popular choral singers for the past 50 years or more. The choir did get into this one with fine solo work by Chad Batten and Alexandra Fuller and a convincingly rousing conclusion.
For the second half of the concert, Mozart’s Mass in C, K. 317 “Coronation,” the Durham All-County High School Chorus was intermingled with the Choral Society of Durham behind an orchestra of strings, oboes, bassoon, horns, trumpets and tympani. In front, the high school soloists were seated: Katie Basden, soprano, Maggie Howell, alto, Chad Batten, tenor and Sedrick McCallum, bass. Most of the solo work in this mass is in duet and quartet combinations. It was one of the techniques Mozart employed to keep the Mass short enough to satisfy Archbishop Colloredo’s demands for brevity. Other adaptations were to limit such developmental practices as fugues, repeats, long melismatic phrases and polyphonic passages.
The Mass in C was composed in 1779. Mozart was 23 and was going through a time of trial and disappointment in his personal life, especially the recent death of his mother and his loss of a lady he was hoping to court. Never the less, this work is inspired with lilting charm and joy. It was composed for the Easter Mass that year and earned the nickname “Coronation” when it was used for the coronation of Leopold II some twelve years later. With the large chorus tonight, even though definitely not period practice, some of the passages were magical, especially the unaccompanied choral writing at the end of the Kyrie and other places. It was a full rich sound yet as usual under Wynkoop’s direction tight and precise. The soloists did a creditable job, though these young, undeveloped voices did not project as they will when they mature. The Credo quartet sections were especially nice. Of remarkable note was the marvelous solo opening the Agnus Dei sung by Hannah Lingafelt. Her voice evidenced training and control, yet provided the freshness and purity of youth. It was a special treat to hear Mozart’s lilting and comforting melody sung by this talented young lady.
This was a unique and special concert. It brought to mind some of my own early singing experiences. The joy of discovering so many different styles of music and the satisfaction of working hard, learning the music from the inside out and realizing that with others what a sound is possible. I remembered the magic of singing for the first time with a symphony orchestra. What a sound! What an experience!
We look forward to many more years of hearing great choral music and know that some of the young people in tonight’s concert will get hooked on choral joy and we will hear them again sometime singing in a college choir or a community chorus or perhaps even professionally. Others will take with them a memory that will serve them well whether they sing further or simply become informed listeners whose lives will be enriched by the pleasure of knowing what they accomplished tonight. It is to be hoped this will not be the last such concert.