By Hannah Garner
The weather conditions, cold but snowy, were perfectly in tune for the Bi-Co Chorale semester concert last Sunday. The concert was as merry and comforting as any holiday event, even though no seasonal pieces were on the program.
The chorale of 130 students, faculty and some spouses and graduates performed 12 “Grand Opera Choruses” from mostly late-19th century classics including George Bizet’s “Carmen,” Alexander Borodin’s “Prince Igor” and Verdi’s “Nabucco.” The audience, which was almost entirely composed of older community members—friends of the adult singers and various faculty members—seemed to enjoy every piece.
Conductor Tom Lloyd introduced the concert by dedicating it to Greg Kannerstein, who he said was an opera buff who would surely have been in the audience on Sunday.
The repertoire was made up of “tunes you’ve known your whole life without knowing where they came from,” as the program read. Lloyd explained that semester chorale concerts usually involve the performance of one “large work in one language and music style,” often sacred music. However, this semester’s concert presented a wide variety of musical styles and cultures of origin. Lloyd said that learning music in five foreign languages was a particular challenge this semester, although the music itself was easier to learn than sacred chorale music that he often chooses for the chorale repertoire.
Of the 12 pieces, seven had solos, performed by Allison Keefe BMC ’11, Kate Comey HC ’12, Kevin D’Aquilla HC ’12, Jacquelyn Freund HC ’10 and Haverford voice instructor Steven Condy. The soloists gave dynamic performances that were as entertaining to watch as they were to hear. Steven Condy’s performance of the “Prologue” from Leoncavallo’s opera "Pagliacci" was a particular treat, as Professor Lloyd put it himself during a dress rehearsal for the concert.
Allison Keefe’s performance of the “Habanera” from Bizet’s "Carmen" was also one of my favorites probably because—and this may be true for other audience members of my generation—it was the most familiar to me. I also took particular pleasure in playing its famous undercurrent base line from my seat in the cello section of the chamber orchestra.
During the chorale’s final two rehearsals, I witnessed the unique dynamic that seems to characterize this community music group. The 130 members were all supportive of each other, enthusiastically applauding the soloists and enjoying their own music-making. Lloyd, who is an associate professor of music and director of choral and vocal studies, seems to bring forth his expertise as well as his relaxed enthusiasm to encourage a surprisingly coherent group.
The chorale concert’s strength surely came in part from this coherency and positivism, but also in part because of its varied performers. The chamber orchestra was made up of Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Temple University musicians. Only one of the vocal soloists is a member of the chorale, while the rest performed solely for the occasion. And the chorale itself is made up of a variety of Bi-Co students, alum, faculty, staff and members of the community.
“The students have really enjoyed having the regular contact with people from outside the campus bubble, as have the community people and alumnae with them,” said Lloyd.
It’s a shame that, as is often the case in Marshall Auditorium, there were very few students in the audience. At the same time, the enthusiasm of the older audience suggests that not all events on campus need to be geared to a college-age audience. Unlike other musical groups on campus, the chorale provides “a more relaxed and informal” interaction between students and other members of our community, Lloyd said. But it was ultimately the strength of the program and of the performers that called for some audience members—undoubtedly quite a few opera buffs among them—to stand up in enthusiastic applause at the end.
After the concert, audience members milled around, congratulating their friends from the chorale with enthusiastic compliments of “Fabulous!” and “Sensational!” I won’t forget the blissful expression on one 70-year-old man’s face in the second row during “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s "Nabucco." Somewhere between the snowy Sunday afternoon, the beautiful music, the performers’ cohesion and the enthusiasm of the audience, a wonderfully comforting and satisfying concert was created.