If you are a member of the Muhlenberg College community and you weren’t in Egner Memorial Chapel on Friday night, what on earth were you doing that was worth missing this fantastic concert from the Women’s Ensemble and the Chamber Choir? The work that Dr. Chris Jackson has done in three semesters with these two groups is phenomenal, and this evening the students showed how versatile they are as performers. If you weren’t there, you missed out BIG TIME. (Disclaimer: Chris and I are in the same “cohort” of 2017 incoming faculty, I may be a bit biased, but it’s still darn good choir conducting and programming.)
During the concert both choirs made clever use of the chapel’s physical space, singing from different parts of the chapel to highlight change, transformation, and searching journeys that formed the theme of “Pilgrimage” tying all the pieces together. “Statements” by Hans-Jørgen Nielsen progressed over a number of repeats from the back of the chapel to the front, for instance.
The programme ranged wide in styles, times and space: from a motet by Hildegard von Bingen and more recent work using her words, to Gustav Holst “Hymn of the Travelers”, to “Knowee” by Stephen Leek, based on an Australian myth and featuring extended techniques such as throat-singing. Many of the pieces have harmonies that deviate considerably from the average western traditional music, but the students didn’t miss a note. (If they did, I never noticed, so that’s alright 😉 )
For me personally the highlight was the series “Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez” (Abbie Betinis), sung with such intensity and emotion! The viola (expertly played by Ms. Margaret Jackson) and percussion (Prof. Thoma) added just the right touch to transport us all to some mysterious place within a Middle Eastern context, without becoming Orientalist. In particular “boatpeople” did something to me that I cannot express in words– the closest I come is that I touched the universe. If the ensembles are taking requests, I’d love to hear this one again, sooner rather than later!