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Chapel Hill Community Chorus' Silver Jubilee – Grand and Glorious

by Ken Hoover

This concert season, the Chapel Hill Community Chorus, under the direction of Sue Klausmeyer, has been celebrating its 25th anniversary of singing grand and glorious choral music. To wind up this silver jubilee celebration on Friday, May 19, they drew on help from Carolina Brass (Greensboro), American composer Gwyneth Walker, and other friends. The performance was in Memorial Hall on the campus of UNC-CH. The audience, which would have packed their usual venue, Hill Hall, filled about two/thirds of this theater.

Community choruses add so much to the richness of life. The serve us all well by keeping some rowdy characters off the streets for a few hours each week.... (Just joking.) They deepen participants' understanding of great choral music. And they provide pleasure and delight to their audiences several times a year. Some of the highlights of the CHCC over the past five years (since Klausmeyer has been at the helm) include two Christmas concerts featuring stunning performances from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, a wonderful reading of Brahms' German Requiem, Schubert's Mass No. 6, Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, and much, much more. Congratulations and thanks to the Chapel Hill Community Chorus and Klausmeyer!

The May 19 concert opened with Mack Wilberg's "Jubilate Deo" from Tres Cantus Laudendi for ten brass instruments, percussion, and chorus. The singing and the playing were crisp and clean, and the overall effect was energetic and jubilant indeed – it was a perfect opening for a concert such as this.

Randall Thompson's A Feast of Praise is probably his best known and most successful composition after the popular and beloved "Alleluia." It is cast in three movements – fast, slow, and fast – and is scored for brass octet, harp, and chorus. Thompson's varied use of the brass is outstanding. The first movement, "The Stars in Their Watches," uses text from the book of Baruch, found in the apocryphal collection of scriptures, and sets the tone of praise. The slow movement, using no other words than those in the title, "Blow Up the Trumpet in the New Moon," was magical, thanks to Thompson's use of harp and muted brass. The closing movement, "God Is Gone up with a Shout," employs vocal passages in rapidly changing meters imitating trumpet fanfares.

The first half of the concert closed with An American Medley, seven traditional American songs in settings by Stephen Paulus for brass quintet and chorus. Obviously inspired by Aaron Copland's Early American Songs, Paulus even included two of them: "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Simple Gifts." These were a mixed bag: some of them were quite fine, with imaginative use of the brass and effective choral writing, while others were not so much so. Several began with rather uninspired brass vamps with the chorus coming in over the brass. There was a sprightly "Oh Susanna," a bouncy "This Train," and a boisterous "Roll, Jordan Roll." My favorite was "Simple Gifts," which gave this classic Shaker hymn new meaning and depth. Chorus members Bill Kodros, Virginia Lee, Jack Spence, Alice Carlton, Lydia Kiefer, and Sarah Parris did solo work in the closing section, "Roll, Jordan Roll."

After intermission, the choir sang "its anthem" – "How Can I Keep from Singing" – in a rich and innovative newly arranged setting with brass quintet and piano by Gwyneth Walker. The Chapel Hill Community Chorus' infectious enthusiasm conveyed its members' love of singing and of singing this particular number.

Next, the brass had a chance to "strut their stuff" with Walker's lollapalooza "Raise the Roof." Composed in 1987, the piece uses all the potential of the brass quintet with the addition of using the players' hands on their knees and their feet on the floor as rhythm instruments. This was a catchy and rousing performance by the Carolina Brass.

Two spirituals – "This little Light of Mine," arranged by John Work, with a wistful solo by Betsy Buchanan, and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," arranged by William Dawson, with John Stevermer, soloist – provided a bridge and set the stage for the final triumphant conclusion of the silver jubilee concert.

Popular American composer Gwyneth Walker was commissioned by the CHCC to write "Together in Song," a suite of three spirituals for chorus, brass quintet, and keyboard. Walker, who lives on a dairy farm in Vermont, is in strong demand by many of America's outstanding community choruses. The three sections of her piece for the CHCC are "Hear the Trumpet Sound" (based on "My Lord, What a Morning!"), "Prayer" (based on "Let Us Break Bread Together"), and "The Gospel Plow" (based on the gospel song "Hold On!"). Walker's varied and knowledgeable use of the brass and piano and her creative choral writing infuse life and meaning into the whole piece and, through a fine performance, into the audience. In the last movement, which the chorus sang from memory, Walker employs rhythm instruments played by members of the chorus (including hands and feet) and uses exuberant choreography, all of which give the piece a sparkling and triumphant ending.

The brass players were Timothy Hudson, Dennis de Jong, and Ken Raskin, trumpets, Michael Hrivnak, Andy Downing, and Scott Buford, horns, David Wulfeck, Hoyt Andres, and Steve Wilfong, trombones, and Steve Truckenbrod, tuba. The percussionists were Eric Corwin* and Patrick Hanna. Emily Laurance was the harpist, and the chorus's steady and artistic piano accompanist was Marianne Kremer. Barbara Irwin was the silver jubilee coordinator. At a grand reception following the concert, high praise was expressed for all who made this outstanding event possible.

*Edited/corrected 5/24/06.

   
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