Sing ye an old song newly!

The choral department of Westmont College is currently on a tour that will take them up to Seattle Washington. Such an undertaking is, understandably, the occasion for the design and enforced wearing of matching Cal-Trans orange T-shirts with cross-shaped totem pole and list of names by section. It's also the occasion for alumni to open their doors with hospitality. With the help of Jessica, Alissa, church secretaries, Paxson and I'm sure so many others, I was able to schedule the choir to perform at our local church and the high school I work.

On Wednesday I waved down the hardy coach bus and welcomed that river of orange to Bear River High School. After a vocalizing warm-up by the one and only Shasburger (oh, beautiful tone, how I've missed you!) our choirs sang several numbers from our up and coming Broadway-themed concert. We divvied into clinics, Shasberger with combined womens' groups, Hodson with our jazz ensemble, and Brothers with the men. The day ended with some wonderful pieces by Westmont.

Thursday night, Jessica and I met up with Alissa at Maria's for burritos in preparation for the concert at a church in Grass Valley. Music was wonderful. Shasberger and Brothers have their classic modes of public speaking and conducting. A beautiful, diatonic piece by recent alumnus Michael "the Hobbit" Bennett entitled "Come Unto Me" followed a prelude by the string quartet roadies. Johann Ludwig Bach's "Das ist meine Freude" caught my ear with its antiphonal effects and contrasts between the weight of declamation and the melismas of joyful response. Hyo-Won Woo's "Amazing Grace" was... amazing! Long and resonant drones gave it that Taverner-feel of other-worldliness. Crunching chords and filigrees of wispy "Amazing..." created a powerful atmosphere while, as if through the mists, through water or a fern bestrewn jungle, gorgeous solo voices intoned two verses of the classic hymn. The second verse especially suggested a Korean tonality in its free development of the melody.

The Chamber Singers' set was wonderful and diverse: digital and convulsive Whitacre, lusty basses in a setting of a spiritual, high, lilting tenors in Vaughan Williams' "Ca' the yowes", and, of course, Dr. Brothers' classic toeing of the line of propriety with Larsen's "The Ol' Chisholm Trail", complete with "Yip, yips!", "lil' doggies", and whiskey to get you through the "Cai yai yippie woopie-ais!"

V. van Gogh
The highlight of the College Choir's second act was Ji-Hoon Park's "Firefly Mass". The first "Kyrie" employed  the deft wrist flicking of intoning handbells, followed by a brutal section in 14/8. The "Gloria" was gorgeous and lyrical with waves of descending sequences folding on top of each other. On a final, sustained chord the lights dimmed to blackness. With haunting simplicity a lone dot of light appeared in the air, floating to the sound and shape of a soprano "gloria". Another answered and soon all the soprano pixies are circling in the darkness. The alto fireflies now, their dance and melody unique, and then joined by sopranos. In like manner the tenor and bass lights appear and dance, tiny stars swaying in darkness. The original, swelling melody of the beginning takes shape, now under the glow of these hovering ghosts. (Major props to the student accompanist for playing in the dark!) The piece ended with a diminuendo of sound and light into a hushed and pleasant blackness.

Above all it was a joy to see our friends again. Yes, the Professors "Matt", "Steve" and "Mike" (or "Pro-Bro", "Hoddy", and "the Shaz") are such good friends (they were each at our wedding almost three years ago) and it is beautiful to fall into conversation with them. Above all I was filled with a new sense of pride to deal professionally with these men that were at one time my idols. I am proud of the person they encouraged me to be and grateful for the new relationship Jessica and I may now forge with them.

Christus primatum tenens.

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