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In football, they might make up what is known as the "taxi squad" or the "scout team." In other sports, they might be known as the "B" team. But in the high-powered world of East Carolina University's choral music program, they are the Men's Choir, Women's Choir, and University Chorale. Their effort could be just as demanding as the effort by the award-winning ECU Chamber Singers, and judging from a concert at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville in late November, they draw just as large and enthusiastic an audience. And with good reason.
The men's and women's choirs and the combined ensemble provided some enjoyable moments during an hour-long program of classical and contemporary choral selections, exhibiting some considerable skills along the way.
The Men's Choir, with more than 40 singers, is only in its second semester of existence, but the group shows signs of developing into a top-flight ensemble, especially under Andrew Crane, director of choral activities in the ECU School of Music. From the rapid delivery of Carl Orff's "In taberna quando sumus" from Carmina Burana to the humorous Dwight Bigler arrangement of the American folk tune "Blue Tail Fly," the group gave a solid performance that covered a wide range of choral singing, with an especially lovely reading in German of J.S. Bach's "Der Herr segne euch" (some might know this as "Bless the Lord, My Soul," in an English version), from the Wedding Cantata, directed by graduate student Kimberly Ness. The basses showed well in an a cappella reading of "Poor Man Lazarus," and all parts delivered the goods in a fine "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables.
Even better was the Women's Choir of approximately 80 voices, who constitute the successor to the St. Cecilia Singers and are under the direction of graduate student Erin Plisco. The ensemble opened with Mike Engelhardt's spirited contemporary arrangement of the 16th century "Gaudete!" and included a beautiful reading of Robert Schumann's "Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär" ("If I were a little bird"). The former was accompanied by organ and percussion and included some nice harmonic suspensions; the latter, under the direction of graduate student Krista Melcher, also had some nice suspensions. Two contemporary settings for older texts were program highlights: Z. Randall Stroope's "Magnificat" and Ivo Antognini's "O Filii et Filiae." The former included a nice soprano section over the text "Abraham and his seed forever" and over the ending of the Gloria Patri, "now and ever shall be." The latter, with cello accompaniment by Emma Johnson, is a lovely melody with a nice interplay among parts, especially in the "Allelulia" passages. The altos were quite good in this piece, while the sopranos were notable for their singing in "Music Down in My Soul," which also had a nice, but brief, solo by alto Monet Miller.
As the University Chorale, the combined ensembles sang Stephen Paulus' arrangement of "The Road Home" in memory of the composer who died earlier this year, and although they were packed tighter than sardines in the sanctuary space, the singers gave a fine rendition, with especially good support from the basses. The concert closed with Mack Wilberg's arrangement of "I'm Runnin' On," also in memory of Paulus. Soprano Rachel Copeland of the ECU voice faculty had solo passages in both pieces and was particularly good in the Wilberg arrangement.
Not all the singers are voice majors, but they show evidence of fine training, hard work, and good choral singing skills. Some of these singers might wind up in future Chamber Singer editions, according to Andrew Crane, who describes the choirs as training groups for the more advanced choral ensembles. The young singers are getting a good start, as shown in this concert.