Three of Concordia’s choirs were showcased in a concert this weekend – Cantabile, Kantorei and Chapel Choir – each of which proved that they could be flagship ensembles at another college in the country. The Three Choirs Concert performed on Oct. 7 was stupendous. Led by Michael Culloton, associate professor of vocal music education and conductor of each ensemble and accompanied by Andrew Steinberg, collaborative pianist, each choir played to their strengths and gave performances that were of equal level to professional choruses.
At 4:30 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium (MA) you could feel the energy pulse through the air. Almost 250 singers were about to begin their first full concert of the fall season, and it was electric. I sat in the fifth row, notebook in hand and expectant of greatness. This concert used to hold much less excitement when I was in one of the first-year choirs at Concordia. A smaller audience, fewer Concordia students present and less buzz surrounding performance. It used to be common to believe that the three choirs were simply feeder programs for the Concordia Choir. Something has changed in the choirs here, and its name is Michael Culloton. Under his direction, each ensemble sang with integrity, poise and dedication to the craft that is vocal art.
Cantabile began the night with Nancy Hill Cobb’s rendition of “Cantate Domino.” Not only were the voices angelic, but they were supported and full. The women were singing classic Latin text, and were clearly focused in their attention towards Culloton. I could not find a face that wasn’t joyful. If you’ve wondered where one of the best all-female choirs in the nation is, look no further. Not only is this a fantastic female chorus, it’s simply a well-rounded and diverse chorus that shoots for the moon. Great choruses are made in tender pieces of music that are driven by the text. “I See the Heaven’s Glories Shine” by Andrea Ramsey is one such piece. The first line of text is, “No coward soul is mine, no trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere.” Is that not a riveting message? In the last line of the piece, Cantabile’s performance maintained fifteen seconds of near perfection. The first soprano singers soared, and each voice part completely supported the heroic leap into soprano altitude goodness by way of rich, thick, dense sounds below. Though Ramsey has set “I See the Heaven’s Glories Shine” for women’s chorus, mixed chorus and for men’s chorus, the power behind this text is feminine. It belongs to women who are ferocious and hearing Cantabile sing this work took the breath from me.
Then Kantorei, the mostly first-year choir, took the stage quickly and were set to sing. You never know what is going to come from 18 and 19 year old singers, and I will admit that I was nervous for the young choir. Of course, this worry was completely unnecessary. “Let Music Fill the Air” by Gwyneth Walker was the highlight from Kantorei. Steinberg gave a gentle touch to the keys that supported without overwhelming the choir. The choir’s attention to Walker’s piece was stupendous. The tenors came out with a graceful touch that is highly irregular for still developing men, and the entire choir provided walls of sound that sent waves to the back of the hall.
Next, they performed Moses Hogan’s “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.” Again, I thought this was a large undertaking for such a young choir. The male solo throughout the piece is one that many adults struggle with, and this is where Culloton proved why he’s the one in charge. Making sure all of his singers were set for success, Culloton broke up what is normally a single soloist’s line for three men: Gabriel Lockheimer-Toso, Gunnar Aas and Simon Geiger-Schutz. Each singer brought his own gusto and soul to the piece. When the choir held its last note, I could have sworn that there was a lone soprano singing in the stratosphere above the staff. This could have been overtones playing tricks on me, but I’ve known Culloton to do this exact thing, and I could have asked him, but I think my personal mystery added to the wonder of the piece. This choir showed that they are ready to step up to the plate, and the only thing that prevents them from being a completely whole choir is to play the role of professionals in their concert mannerisms between and during their own performances
Finally, the Chapel Choir took the stage. I was impressed by both of the other choirs, but Chapel Choir is different this year. There was some shifting from the program, as Culloton opted for the choir to sing Paul J. Christiansen’s “Gracious Spirit” first and then follow program order throughout the rest of the concert. Folks, here’s the rub. The balance and the humility with which the Chapel Choir sang made me stop writing. Each piece topped the last. Either the phrases were more connected, the dynamics were more refined or the singers were more invested. Daniel Elder’s “Ballade to the Moon” contained a single crescendo in it that would have in itself been worth your time to hear. But sophomore Cade Bestland decided he would end the night with a soul touching, lifting solo in Shawn Kirchner’s “I’ll Be On My Way.” Cade’s singing was like each word was spoken to a tune. He had complete control – it was sweet and natural.
If you find yourself needing some quiet time this week, or maybe something to get you pumped for weekend affairs Friday night, then there is a song for you to listen to from this concert. As always, you can catch any concert I’ve given a review for on the Concordia College UStream.