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The concert began with a performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem, "Shche Ne Vmerla Ukrainy," with all standing, "performed in honor of the suffering people of Ukraine."
The concert program itself began with For a Breath of Ecstasy, a 30-minute work composed by Michael John Trotta in 2017 to words by Sara Teasdale. Teasdale won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1918. Trotta slightly adapted words from her 1917 book Love Songs.
The seven movements begin with "Wealth Enough For Me," and "Peace Flows into Me," both scored for SATB, oboe (here performed by Robert Burkett), and originally strings, played on piano in this concert by collaborative pianist Catherine Garner. "Who Gave My Soul to Me" is for the same instruments with tenors and basses alone. "For You I Am Still," returned the choir to full force again – the singing was very careful, with excellent enunciation.
"Spend All You Have on Loveliness," written for instruments and soprano/alto, included a very impressive crescendo on the phrase "Holy thoughts that star the night." There were some minor intonation problems with the oboe.
"And I For You" had several moments of very poignant singing, culminating in the key phrase "And I for you" in the middle of the poem. Trotta uses this phrase in place of Teasdale's original title "To-night." In the final movement, "Let Me Love," Trotta returns to thematic material from the first movement to unify the piece. The choir, slightly top-heavy with women's voices in the usual way of volunteer chorale societies, still created excellent balance under Roby's baton. While they have no true pianissimo, they exhibited a full range of volume, excellent tonal cohesion, and precise singing.
The concert concluded with four pieces honoring the legacy of Moses Hogan, a brilliant and promising composer and arranger, whose career was cut short in 2003 by his death at age 45 from a brain tumor. The Concert Choir's assistant conductor Noah Sigsworth conducted the first two of thesepieces. His youthful presence on the podium provided a good balance with Roby; Sigsworth conducted with professionalism and grace.
"I Am His Child" features both words and music written by Hogan. It lovingly expresses his devotion with spiritual words and a slight show-tunes lilt. "I Want To Be Ready" is Hogan's arrangement of a traditional spiritual, with tenor solo, here ably performed by one of my ECU favorites, Koby Gallman. His liquid and unforced voice, powerful and gentle by turns as needed, greatly enriched this piece.
"We Shall Walk Through The Valley In Peace," another traditional spiritual arranged by Hogan, began rather soft, then rose to a very powerful but totally musical climax, well led by Roby. "Ride On, King Jesus" included a soprano solo, taken at the last minute by substitute Christian Powell, from Duplin County via ECU. Her innately lovely voice, polished by study at ECU, was a perfect counterfoil to the Concert Choir's excellence.
Although Roby lamented the loss of a month's rehearsals due to the pandemic, there was nothing about this performance to suggest that they were less than ready to sing. Well done, all.