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Music in Many Languages

Beautiful music in five different languages filled Gray Auditorium for nearly two hours in the Berea College concert choir and chamber singers fall concert the first weekend of November.

The concert choir is nearly 80-voices strong and has an equal number of men and women for a rich sound that gave goose bumps to listeners. The chamber singers, made up of 14 select members of the larger choir, sang several numbers with breathtaking controlled harmonies. They were conducted by Dr. Stephen Bolster and accompanied by organist John Courter and pianist Ryan Shirar.

After the opening number, “Psalm 100,” a portion of the choir departed for the Presser Hall attic. In a few moments they emerged just under the auditorium’s rafters above the balcony on a railed safety ledge built for maintenance workers. Bolster remarked that it was the first time singers had been placed there for a double choir piece.

The two groups sang “Nun danket alle Gott” by Johann Pachelbel to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the composer’s death in 1706. This was one of three songs performed in German. After the intermission, “Dunkler Lichtglanz” Op. 138, No. 10 and “Zigeunerleben,” Op. 29, No. 10. were sung in celebration of the 150th anniversary of composer Robert Schumann’s death. This last number featured two members on percussion instruments and six soloists.

Latin, a traditional language for classical vocal music, was heard in “Beatus vir” to commemorate the 200th anniversary of composer Johann Michael Haydn and “Kyrie in D” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

The large group mixed the men among the women for two pieces honoring the dead by Eleanor Daley “For the Fallen” accompanied by William Ton on trumpet and “In Remembrance” from “Requiem” with haunting lyrics that began “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep.”

These were followed by “God is Gone Up” by Gerald Finzi in celebration of the 50th year of his death. For this number, the men filled the left half of the risers with the women on the right, enhancing the antiphonic portions of the piece with the various sections responding in turns.

The Chamber Singers wowed the crowd with the soft, reverential “By the Springs of Water” based on Isaiah 49:10. Later Bolster joined the singers under the direction of Shirar for two Argentine folk songs in Spanish, “Manchai Puito” and “Se eqivocó la Paloma.” Soprano Kate Farrell was a soloist on the former.

The last five numbers had the audience tapping their toes. “Zungo” and Dide ta Deo,” Nigerian folk songs, were accompanied by the six-member BC African-Latin Percussion Ensemble. The last three were American Negro spirituals: “Wade in the Water,” “Swing Down, Chariot” and the finale, “The Battle of Jericho,” which raised the audience off their feet in a standing ovation.

Before the spirituals, December graduating seniors Crystal M. Ford and Charity Warren were recognized and honored for their years of service to the choir. Warren, a soprano, had solos in two of the spirituals and Ford, an alto, had a solo in one of the earlier Schuman pieces along with Diana Lowe, Rebecca Ogburn, David Collins, Demetrius Russell and Derek Cain.

Freshman member Josh Slaton said the most challenging part was learning the German because it has so many different vowel sounds that aren’t in the English language. “We had to learn the different rhythms and the different pitches and the language along with that.” Future graduate Ford was sentimental about leaving the group. “What I cherish most is the unity of the choir when making music and the heart and the spirit that we put into the songs that we sing.”

These two groups will perform next for the music department’s Christmas concert at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, at Union Church.

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