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Choral Review Essay, Research Paper

After parking out in the wilds of the Western parking-lot system I managed to hike a few miles through the wind and rain to the PAC on a stormy November 9th in Bellingham. Having shaken myself off I found a comfortable seat in the upper deck and settled in to enjoy the warmth and music of the evening. Minutes after I sat down the choir filed in to form a semi-circle around the conductor. Everyone was dressed up in black and looked striking for the evening’s performance.

The evening’s performance was split into three separate choral groups; The Western voices, which consisted of fifteen members, seven male and eight female, the concert choir which included the fifteen members of the Western Voices along with several others, and the Squalicum High School Concert Choir which I will not include in this review. Although I have no experience with choral music I have had several years of orchestral training which allows me to enjoy and appreciate other types of music.

All pieces performed by the Western Choir were sung in French, so I was unable to decipher the exact words of each piece, but the emotion held within the choir members more then adequately expressed the message of each song. I attribute this amazing quality of sound to the acoustics of the concert hall they are amazing.

The Western Voices first selection was John Corigliano’s L’Invitation au Voyage. During this performance I was settling into the mood and was attempting to adjust to the unexpected foreign tongue in which the piece was performed. I was soon overcome with the power of these fifteen people’s voices. It sounded as if there were a hundred students down on the stage, all harmonizing their voices to create this wave of emotion that flowed over the audience. The female and male elements of the choir where staggered, with the male voices set back about three feet from the females to help play their backup role in the piece.

The next selection, Wechsellied Zum Tanz, was very short, but also very beautiful. The members of the choir pair off male/female and sing to one another as if in a state of courting. The use of call and response in this piece is heavily relied on. The couples to the left of the stage sing a verse in a happy and uplifting tone only to be chastised by the choir members on the right side of the stage. They call back in a lower, subdued tone as if to inform the other members of their foolishness. The two elements of the choir take turns rebutting each other until both voices trail off and the piece ends with a sorrowful piano score.

After intermission the Western Concert Choir combined again to sing five more songs, but by far Cloudburst shone above them all. This was one of the most amazing pieces of music that I have ever experienced. As I sat there and listened I found that my jaw had actually dropped to the floor and I was left gaping like a fish out of water. As the piece starts the Sopranos sporadically and softly call out. This effect is sprinkled out through the choir stands to simulate the rolling wind and soft drops of water before the storm. Soon the Mezzo-sopranos and contraltos join in as the ‘rain’ picks up in intensity. The integration of the lower tones is seamless and perfectly executed allowing for the flowing feeling of water. Suddenly a strong bass baritone calls out over the women, like a forceful wind gust, the tenors follow suite, but in a more subdued and muted voice. The entire choir synchronizes into one voice, starting from a very low pitch and volume and raises it steadily as the storm front approaches. Then the voice drops to a low whisper and a set of chimes is set into motion, the calm before the storm. BOOM! A large bass drum strikes and a sheet of tin is rolled back and forth to simulate the thunder. The voices of the choir become sporadic, blowing left to right as the storm rages. The volumes is almost deafening at this point, but slowly the choir quiets, the beats on the drum become less frequent and farther away, and finally the tin is put to rest. The choir snaps their fingers softly the storm is over.

I was so moved by this piece that I stood up and clapped vigorously, the people around me following suite. I enjoyed this performance very much and would recommend the Western Concert Choir to any that show interests in music. Their tone and clarity is uncommon for their youthful appearance, but I was pleasantly surprised by their abilities. I look forward to their Christmas concert next month.

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