Thursday, April 05, 2007

GHS Spring Choral Concert

Once again Patrick Taylor and the young people of Greenwich High School have gifted the Town with a memorable evening of music. As your scribe has said before, we are lucky to have perhaps the best high school music program in the country, and a large group of talented students with the good sense to take advantage of it to the fullest.

As always, the large Concert Choir began the program, and it was clear from the outset that they have improved dramatically since the December concert. By this, let me hasten to say, you should understand that their singing is always high-quality; what has changed is that they have tackled a much more difficult reportory, and mastered it very well. As Patrick said at the outset, he believes in challenging his students beyond their abilities, which is how they learn new skills, as well as that it's OK to screw up if you're trying your best.

But your scribe heard no screw-ups last night, although a few of the entrances could have been cleaner (always a problem with a large group - to learn to sound like a single voice). The program opened with Mendelssohn's "Heilig ist Gott der Herr" in gorgeous stereophonic sound, with the evenly-divided choir singing from the side aisles and tossing the phrases back and forth to each other, just like the heavenly choir of angels is reported to do. They followed Patrick's direction well, even though some of them were an auditorium-length away, not just from him but from each other, which meant that they had to stay strictly on tempo and not be fooled by the acoustical time lag. They did.

Then came another Mendelssohn piece, "He Watching Over Israel". The melodic lines are deceptively difficult when it comes to phrasing, and here the Concert Choir (or rather, some of them) could have used a little more practice. Ali Allerton was at the piano, and rippled her way through the accompaniment with her usual consummate skill. All in all, it was a very pleasing rendition of a lovely piece.

Mozart's "Lacrymosa" from his "Requiem" is another piece that requires lots of practice and control. The Choir did a fine job, and were clearly concentrating hard on getting it right. Their efforts paid off.

Then came a Gospel number in which, as Patrick explained, the singers used their chest voice instead of their head voice to just belt out the Good News. They were lots better than most of the Gospel choirs your scribe has heard.

The next selection was a real triumph: three native songs of the Brazilian Krao Indians, sung in Portuguese, of course. This is the kind of extraordinarily difficult music usually reserved for the elite Chamber Singers, but the Concert Choir put down their folders and did it all from memory.

And there was a lot to do: not just singing, but imitating jungle noises, rushing water, birdcalls, and more. Your scribe doesn't know quite how they did it, but they sure managed to transform the GHS auditorium into the Amazon rain forest. It was an utterly fabulous performance, and rated the only standing ovation of the evening (except for the end of the program, of course).

Much of the credit probably goes to guest conductor Patricia Lowry, who spent the day with them rehearsing the piece. Patrick himself was quick to acknowledge that Brazilian music was outside his realm of experience, while it happens to be a specialty of Patricia's. He further let on that Patricia is his girlfriend, which led to lots of appreciative noises from both the Choir and the audience. He managed to shush the Choir, saying "It's not about me - it's about you." He had a more difficult time shushing the audience.

The last Concert Choir selection was another Gospel song, "River in Judea". The Choir used their head voice instead of the chest voice, and one could clearly appreciate the difference. Obviously, the Concert Choir has indeed come a long way since December.

The Witchmen were up next, continuing the Gospel tradition with "The Battle of Jericho" as arranged by the late Yale alum Marshall Bartholomew. We then heard Yeats's poem, "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death", first read and then sung. As always, the precision and skill of the male glee club tradition at its best were well-exemplified by the Witchmen.

Next came the Madrigals, the all-girls group, who matched the boys' skill and precision note for note. Your scribe's favorite was "Dance on My Heart", in which a young lady is offered riches and fame in exchange for her heart, and has the good sense to say no. A second suitor, who promises to love her and be at her side throughout life fares better; he is the one who, in her quaint phrase, is able to "dance on her heart". Nice to hear these sentiments so beautifully sung by the young women of our fair Town.

Then came the Chamber Singers, who as always represent the epitome of musical polish and execution. They are, in your scribe's opinion, quite possibly the best high school singing group in the USA (Britain may be another story; but their tradition of excellence in singing goes back centuries beyond ours). Their final piece, a choral version of the Barber "Adagio for Strings", was gorgeous. It was set to the text of the "Agnus Dei", which seemed to match the music extremely well. Indeed, your scribe heard a rumor earlier in the week that this may have been Barber's original setting, which was only later transcribed for strings. Both versions are masterful.

The finale saw the full complement of all the singers crowded onto the creaky stage of the aging auditorium - in itself a feat of logistics. Patrick clambered onto his precarious perch - a board placed across a seat - muttering under his breath, "Where's that new auditorium we need?" Hundreds of young voices sang the praises and power of music in our lives, and we gave them all a standing ovation. Thanks, Patrick, and thanks, singers, for another evening of musical magic!

(Note: pics to follow - please revisit in a few days)

Well, the pics are now here. As always, remember to click on them to get the full-size view.
Above are Patrick and Ali in a quiet moment before the concert began.

And here we have Patricia Lowry conducting the Brazilian number. Notice how the Concert Choir claps and sways as part of their fabulous performance.

And here are the Chamber Singers, getting a well-deserved round of applause.

Finally, here is Patrick doing his death-defying conducting of the combined groups from his precarious perch. He should get combat pay for risking life and limb in this woefully-inadequate auditorium. The Town has promised to fix the problem...someday...maybe...whenever. Your scribe wishes he had a large charitable foundation so that he could build GHS the auditorium that the faculty and students deserve. Let's see, how much is the PowerBall jackpot tonight...?


Blogger ERiCA said...

Wow, sounds like lots of fun!

April 06, 2007 8:54 AM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Erica, you have no idea! This town is a happening place, and the youngsters are a big part of it. There's much more to this burg than McMansions and hedge funds (thank God). Come and visit sometime, and see for yourself!

April 07, 2007 2:44 PM  

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