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The Talley Center Ballroom provided the setting for a fall presentation by the Chamber Singers from North Carolina State University. This group of twenty-two, with conductor Alfred E. Sturgis and accompanist Thomas Koch, opened with Bach’s Motet No. 6, “Loben den Herrn.” This challenging piece lacked the polish of the later offerings. Although the sound was surprisingly good, many of the singers seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time eyeing the score rather than the director.
The next work featured a text even more ancient than the Bach, in a decidedly contemporary setting. “God Picks Up the Reed-Flute World” declaims a poem by the thirteenth century Persian mystic Jalal ed-Din Rumi that was set to music by audience member J. Mark Scearce, Director of Music at NC State. (This number was presented to well-deserved acclaim by these same forces in NC State’s Stewart Theater on September 21, with participation by translator and poet Coleman Barks.) It was here that the singers showed their considerable talents. Their enunciation was quite clear, and they did not seem at all intimidated by the difficult harmonies and dissonances. Joining pianist Koch were flutist Mary Boone, oboist Kelly Longmire, cellist Nate Leyland, and harpist Laura Byrne. These instrumentalists interacted with the singers so closely as to constitute not merely accompaniment, but equal partnership. It is a piece that tends to “grow on you.”
Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” provided the singers with perhaps their best opportunity. The superb opening lines by the men could hardly have been bettered, with the women later showing the same fine ensemble. As in most Wilberg arrangements, the instrumentalists (piano, flute, oboe, and harp) were fundamental to the piece, with the flute especially prominent.
“Nocturnes” by Swedish composer Hildor Lundvik comprised three appealing songs. Sturgis introduced these as being reminiscent of Debussy. That description probably characterized their impressionistic nature as well as one could hope. Since they were sung a cappella, Koch was freed from piano duty and hence available for conducting. Sturgis then lent his talents to the bass section.
Serving as a sort of entr’acte were performances by the small groups “Ladies in Red” and “Grains of Time.” To the obvious delight of the audience, these performers brought a taste of show business and a lightening of mood. Their offerings are not easy to describe. Perhaps a few lines from the songs would suffice: Like “I don’t wanna be anything other than me,” or how about “Must I always be waiting on you?” and “What you need you know I got it!”
The visiting musicians were practically as important and effective as the singers. Notable was the cello, later with piano, in “The Night We Shall Go In” by Imant Ramish. Then David N. Childs’ beautiful Scottish poem-based “Where Dwells the Soul of My Love” featured the oboe and piano in an uncommonly charming combination.