by Sarah N. Eichvalds
January 24, 2010, Chapel Hill, NC: Women’s
directed by Allan Friedman and accompanied by Deborah Coclanis, sang
the praises of women through history, mythology, and beyond during
their concert, “Ain’t I a Woman,” on Sunday afternoon.
The University United Methodist Church provided a great acoustical
space as well as a lovely setting with balconies, church pews, and
Carolina blue walls.
This concert contained a varied repertoire of music, starting with
the spiritual, “Ain’t I a Woman!,” based on Sojourner
Truth’s speech, and going through praise, love, and
just plain songs about women. The repertoire would not be complete,
of course, without a piece dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and, just
to prove her import, there were four such pieces. Though all
were in essence the same, each was stylistically different. The first,
MacIntyre’s “Ave Maria,” is a chant of the title
repeatedly, containing beautiful harmonies and great blend by the choir
in the fortissimo section. The second, Katherine Dienes’ “Ave
Maria,” sung by the chamber choir,is a haunting piece that
reminded me of the resounding sounds heard in a cave. Ramona Luengen’s “Salve
Regina,” containing a flute solo and eight-part splits in
the chorus, and Lana Walter’s “Elizabeth’s Ave,” explored
the emotions of the Virgin Mary during her pregnancy.
One of my favorite pieces from the concert was “Nancy Hanks.” I
had first heard this piece sung by a friend of mine at Meredith College.
It is a small narration of what Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s
mother, would ask if she came back as a ghost. She asks if we know
her son’s name and if he was able to get on, the irony being
that most everyone today knows his name. Hearing this piece in a choral
setting was really quite splendid. It allows the choir to introduce
the story of the song and then the soloist comes in as if
she were Nancy Hanks herself.
Other highlights of this concert were three premiere pieces
by Duke University students or graduates. The first piece, “The
Maiden,” composed by Paul Leary, contains a narration
of translated letters from Joan of Arc. The chorus and percussionists
provide the accompaniment that is meant to bring to life the mysticism
of her battle against the English. Truly, it sounded every bit like
a soundtrack that would accompany Joan of Arc into battle.
The next piece, “Gaia Meets Medea,” was composed by Duke
student Thom Limbert. The music is supposed to represent the meeting
of two deities and the two contrasting ecological philosophies
they represent. The only words spoken are “Gaia” and “Medea.” The
choir starts singing one and eventually transitions to the other, the
music following the phonetic change.
The last of the three composers was Sidney Boquiren. The piece, “Devi,” named
for the Hindu deity, creates a community of singers. On top of the
omnipresent phrase “I am,” each member says what they
are at their own pace, praising the deity and the feminism in themselves.
This individualism creates a community and, in the words of director
mystical swirl of sound.”
The concert ended with another spiritual, “Ain’t No Grave
Can Hold My Body Down.” This fun, high energy piece was a great
ending number. One of my pet peeves is choirs clapping out of
sync, but I’m glad to say that not one person was off,
which is a true sign of the effort put into this concert! The crowd
agreed and treated the choir to a standing ovation, which resulted
in an encore of “Ain’t I a Woman!” I immensely enjoyed
this concert and look forward to future performances from the Women’s