UWI to benefit from Southern Chorale concert
Clearly, the Southern Chorale loves Jamaica. For the second time in four years, the 60-plus-strong choir, from the University of Southern Mississippi College of Arts and Letters and School of Music, is singing here.
Conductor Dr Gregory Fuller told the audience at the University of the West Indies (UWI) chapel on Sunday afternoon, "We don't visit many places twice, but Jamaica is one of them." The choir first sang in the island in January 2011.
Sunday's concert, part of the chorale's 2015 spring tour, was mounted to raise money for the UWI Development and Endowment Fund, which assists university students with scholarships. Chairman of the fund committee, Dennis Lalor, and former prime minister Edward Seaga were among the many dignitaries in the audience.
On the programme with the visiting choir was the University Singers. No one uttered the word "clash" or even "competition" when speaking of the two choirs' presentation, and in praising the early singing of the chorale, University Singers conductor Franklin Halliburton, was careful to say only that his choir would "do their best to complement" what had been an excellent presentation by the visitors up to that point.
But it was inevitable that comparisons would be made of the singing of the two internationally acclaimed choirs. Judging from the total audience applause by the end of the show, it would be fair to say that the two groups gave equal delight, but undoubtedly for a while, the items by the University Singers were by far the most popular.
The Southern Chorale is much more reserved in their delivery: the members stand and sing - beautifully, it's true, but they move little. And the choir's opening songs included slow, even solemn, Latin pieces, O Vos Omnes by Richard Burchard (associate professor of music and executive composer in residence at Bellarmine University, Louisville, Kentucky), and O Magnum Mysterium (2013) and Ave Maria (2009) by Daniel Elder, a composer from Athens, Georgia, whose musical inspirations, to quote the printed programme, come partly from "the contrapuntal roots of early sacred music".
While the tone, power, dynamics, harmony, pace, breath control and vocal quality of the chorale, generally, was admirable, the largely Jamaican audience visibly responded more to the songs by the University Singers who came in after six songs. Though outnumbered by the visiting chorale, the Singers sounded just as powerful, and technically, the local group yielded not an inch.
But the variety which the Singers brought to the evening pushed them well ahead in the 'contest' at the halfway mark (the intermission). For one thing, the Singers had soloists.
Two of them, Danielle Nelson and Kimone Johnson, introduced two songs, Glory, and the humorous, Sing a Song of Sixpence - which later featured the entire choir. The third female, Carolyn Reid Cameron, sang Sweet Little Holy Child while a young man from the University Dance Society, Mikail Samuels, in white undershirt and shorts, 'interpreted' her words in dance.
Then there was Roy Thompson's remarkable rendition of Without a Song. Full of feeling and power, the solo drew sustained applause.
In closing off their set with a superb arrangement of the hymn Alleluia, O Praise Him, the University Singers swayed and bounced to drum and piano. It was an amazing performance; just when the members seemed to have reached the top in intensity, they vocally climbed higher. The applause as they strode proudly from the chapel was tremendous. Round one was incontestably theirs.
Dr Fuller and the chorale fought back from the opening bell after the intermission. He told the audience that in his travels around the southern United States, he had noticed that Lutheran choirs had signature pieces and he decided his chorale needed one too. He chose Ross Bernhardt's 2007 composition, Prayer of St Patrick.
The piece, sung with much passion and excellent dynamics, saw the choir standing in a horseshoe shape around the audience. There was quite a bit of part singing until, in the end, the choir came together, beautifully.
After mentioning that Jamaica was one of the few places the chorale had gone twice, Dr Fuller said that another was Estonia, the home of Tonu Korvits, the composer of Canticle of the Sun (2014), from which the choir excerpted three segments for Sunday. The selections, Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Sister Death, were staidly but prayerfully delivered.
Then followed Three Choral Ballads by Carl Wilhelm Eugen Stenhammar (1871-1927) in pretty much the same style, after which the chorale collectively let down its hair and showed its livelier side. The spiritual Every Time I Feel de Spirit had members of the audience jigging in their benches, and the group's final number, a medley of songs, collectively called 'Journey to the Fifth Dimension' (arranged by Jonathan Rodgers, a Southern Mississippi College alumnus), was most exciting.
Consisting of hits of yesteryear made popular by the Fifth Dimension like Up, Up and Away, Would You Like to Ride in My Beautiful Balloon, Let the Sunshine In and Age of Aquarius, it earned the group a standing ovation.
The chorale's spring tour ends after three appearances in Mississippi towns.