The power might have given out on Saturday’s choir concert, but the choir certainly did not.
I attended the WHS choir concert, “With a Little Help From My Friends”, on Sat., Oct. 15, and I had an amazing time. Despite a power outage that rendered the theatre unusable, the students packed into the lobby, and lit only by a few fluorescent lights overhead, pulled through with their usual brilliant quality under new director Amy Rolniak.
Lines of plastic folding chairs, striped gray and gold in the light from the emergency generators, spilled over with people; every corner, doorway and cafeteria table overflowed with audience members in chairs, on the floor, and standing against the wall – yet, despite the crowded the conditions, the audience erupted in thunderous applause, whistles and shouts after every (yes, every!) song. I was so moved by the extraordinary outpouring of love and joy I was able to witness that night.
“Considering we were in the cafeteria, I can’t tell you how excited and happy I am that everybody came together and pitched in and made it happen,” said a glowing Rolniak after the performance. “Our motto this year is ‘I am because we are’. It’s an African proverb that means that the only way that I am happy is if we are happy, and the only way I am successful is if we are successful.”
Rolniak conducted each choir with a calm and encouraging air, making sure the students blossomed even in the face of adversity, and pianist Cristopher Monarch accompanied with a sensitive and musical touch.
Freshman Choir was able to showcase even more than in previous years due to its new division into Freshman Women and Freshman Men. I really applaud the clear, open vowels that they showed in Kirby Shaw’s Seven Bridges Road –– it was some of the best blending of the night. Freshman Women boasted a floating soprano section and a strong alto sound in Steven Porter’s The Mouse Madrigal – a playful retelling of the classic story Three Blind Mice.
I was also very impressed by the smooth, almost jazzy sound that Freshman Men offered. They held an excellent piano, which they showcased in Timothy C. Takach’s arrangement of Robert Burns’ My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, which, much to the audience’s delight, they turned into a wacky mad lib (“My love is like a red, red, monkey”, etc.).
Mixed Chorale shone in Will Schmid’s Alle, Alle, Alle, a traditional Jamaican call–and–response song which they accompanied with an amazing mixture of handheld percussion—maracas, rain sticks, and guiro, a wooden instrument that makes a scratching sound when scraped with a stick.
A Class Act, now 16 strong, was incredible as always. I was very impressed with the distribution of sound that I heard – the sopranos and altos showed wonderful strength and control, and the soaring tenors were very well counterbalanced by a powerful baritone section. But what really stood out to me was the incredible diversity of dynamic that they showed in Pierre Certon’s Je ne l’ose dire, ebbing and swelling effortlessly from piano to forte sometimes within a single phrase. I was also very touched by the title song, Deke Sharon’s With a Little Help From My Friends—a celebration of love and friendship that pulsed with a gentle, glowing vivacity and included lots of great solos.
Women’s Chorale charmed in Deke Sharon’s arrangement of Lullabye by Billy Joel, complete with electric candles. They carried the simple, touching melody very well with their easy, flowing sound, and I loved the dynamic flexibility that they showed during the climax of Brian Tate’s Gate Gate, which swept very evenly from a powerful fortissimo down to a gorgeous piano.
Last was Vocal Ensemble. What I loved about their performance was their amazing diversity of articulation, and how well it mixed – for example, in Eric William Barnum’s Jenny Kiss’d Me, they performed rapid, moving sections and smooth, sustained phrases simultaneously and with a beautiful, effortless contrast. Their excellent staccato was the cherry on top!
The finale, Penny Down Tullock’s How Can I Keep From Singing, pulled everything together in a dazzling way. For lack of room on the makeshift stage, singers poured down the aisles and against the walls, surrounding the audience with beautiful, exuberant sound. It was a wonderful end to an even more wonderful evening.
“One thing I really enjoy about choir is the feeling of unity and how everyone knows the common goal and they all want to achieve it,” said Rachel Blanton ‘19 of Women’s Chorale. “Everybody encourages each other to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and work with the rest of the people. I feel like we’ve all come to a milestone that will bring us closer together.”