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    • Concert Choir fills Battell Chapel with “Glow” from the 2018 Music of Winter Concert

    • Smith and Schroth pose after the 2017 Music of Winter Concert in Battell Chapel

Battell Chapel Hosts Hopkins Music Ensembles

Eleanor Doolittle’20 Arts Editor
On Tuesday, December 4, Battell Chapel, Yale’s elaborate place of worship, was flled with melodious music from Hopkins’ annual Music of Winter concert.
The performance was a culmination of hard work and months of preparation put into each piece of music. CC Rocco ’20, a choir soprano, said, “Battell is super pretty and has great space for singing as the sound is really resonant.” Emerson DelMonico ’21, also a soprano, agreed: “In rehearsals, we would talk about how to make the songs sound as true to the way they were intended to be sung. Then, we get to Battell Chapel, and our singing sounds so much better. The acoustics bring our songs to a different level.” Erika Schroth, Conductor of Concert Choir, enthused, “Battell Chapel is one of the best places to perform in New Haven. It’s beautiful, has a lovely acoustic, and can accommodate both the number of students involved in this concert (over one hundred musicians!) and the large audience that attends.”

Robert Smith, Director of Instrumental Music and Art Department Chair, shared his support for Battell Chapel: “While the choral groups have been performing in the church for decades, it has only been three or four years that the Orchestra got to perform in Battell Chapel. Orchestra used to perform with Jazz Rock in upper Heath, and the hardwood foors paired with low ceilings did not do the music justice. Therefore, when we switched to Battell Chapel, the sound was so vibrant and blended together perfectly.”

The annual winter concert kicked off the holiday season, and got everyone in a festive mood. Lauren Gillespie ’20, an alto in Concert Choir said, “The concert at Battell Chapel really makes me excited for the holidays! I also really love that it is so close to our winter break so it kicks off the vacation.” Mei Har ’20, a cellist in Orchestra said, “You can really feel the difference. Maybe it’s because all the students are excited to go on winter break, but in technical terms, the music we play for the winter concert is more magical sounding.” Har continued, “The concert feels like the peak of the holidays for me before fnally going on break after a busy winter.” Jackson Weisman ’20, a clarinettist in Orchestra said, “The winter concert is more festive than the spring concert, but this year it also had a darker, more complex tone.”

The songs showcased were carefully selected by Smith and Schroth. Schroth said, “I try to fnd a broad selection of pieces that will give students in Choir the opportunity to express in many different ways - some pieces are slow and incredibly beautiful, while others have an intense rhythmic quality.” On the Orchestral side, Smith said, “I chose music that required a decent amount of practicing, and that was just diffcult enough, without having anything seem too daunting.” He added, “I always want to push the orchestra, but not have them feel discouraged or incredibly frustrated with a piece.”

Some of the pieces were quite challenging. James Jeffery ’22, the pianist of Orchestra, elaborated: “We played a piece by early nineteenth- century composer Josef Suk called ‘Scherzo Fantastique,’ which is probably among the most diffcult pieces I’ve ever learned. The key modulates in every direction every fve seconds, and accidentals are the norm. However, spending hours practicing it has paid off, and watching every little piece of it come together is an amazing experience. One of the most relieving moments of my life was probably hearing that we (the orchestra) knew this piece well enough to play it in our December concert.” Har ’20 agreed that her favorite piece was also “Scherzo Fantastique,” “ My favorite part about it is the cello part, since it brings out the heart and soul of the piece. Also the mix of the vastly unique rhythms make the Suk super interesting to listen to.”

The “Hallelujah Chorus” has been a longstanding tradition for the concert choir and orchestra to collaborate on. “People always look forward to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’” Weisman ’20 said. “It is the piece that Orchestra and Choir combine on every year, and I always feel that it’s a bit tough as we practice with Choir, but always a real crowd pleaser that closes the night out with a bang.” Schroth described her favorite piece: “All of the pieces have different challenges, but one that has a special place in my heart is ‘Ave Maria’ by Franz Biebl, written in the middle of the 20th century. This is on many conductors’ lists of 'most beautiful pieces of choral music ever.’ It requires so much from singers - an intense commitment to musical direction, tone, line, shape, connection to breath, and a deep sense of ensemble. It’s been a fantastic challenge for the singers, and I think they have grown so much through their work on that piece in particular.”

This year, Concert Choir had been working hard to perfect their repertoire. Schroth commented, “The oldest piece on the program (Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’) was written in 1791, and some are newly composed (Eric Whitacre’s ‘Glow’, Ola Gjeilo ‘Tundra’). Some were in English, and others were in Latin, Haitian, Spanish, Pakpaknese, and there was even a piece by a Latvian composer in a completely invented language! Some have sweeping, large expressive gestures, and others are much more intimate in nature.” Gillespie ’20 said, “I love the genres of music that we sing, jumping from slow luxurious tunes to upbeat songs that make everyone want to dance.”

Concert Choir also incorporated unique additions to their songs including the mouth harp, and bongo drums. Rocco ’20, player of mouth harp, said, “My favorite song is called ‘Vindo.’ ‘Vindo’ is basically in a fake language that sounds a bit like Latvian. It’s defnitely my favorite because I play the mouth harp.” She elaborated, “I never really heard of mouth harp [before], but it adds a really unique feel to the piece and it’s really fun to play!” Michael Christie ’19, who performs on the bongo drums when not singing bass for concert choir said, “I have minimal experience playing bongo drums. I have done a couple workshops in the past, but I have had no formal training with the drums. For me, you listen to the music and the drums will tell you how they should be played. If you do it wrong, you’ll hear it.” He continued, “While the bongo drums are defnitely fun to perform, my favorite song is Ave Maria. It is such a powerful piece and when sung properly; it is beautiful beyond words.”

The winter concert was a beautiful time for Concert Choir and Orchestra to showcase their impressive skill and hard work. Connor Pignatello ’19, bass section leader, said: “We sing really unique pieces that can take a lot of practice to get right, so it was amazing to fnally perform them, and get recognition for our time and effort we put into the song.”

Through hard work, perseverance, and dedication to their craft, students were able to share their incredible talent. Jeffery ’21 raved, “Talented musicians are left, right, and center here on The Hill. I’ve never been anywhere like it!” Schroth remarked how the passion of the singers and musicians made the performance exceptional, “Their compassion and generosity makes the music come to life; singing with other people is powerful - it’s really a refection of the human experience and the possibilities that emerge when people come together with a common purpose. It is a privilege to watch that take shape.”
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