Education and LAB Choir Director Ben Johns reports:
LAB XII had a full weekend of performances and workshops with student composers. Our uniform T-shirts (CIA stands for "Chanticleer In-school Ambassadors) arrived just in time for the first performance on Friday evening at Miramonte High School, where we performed in the student-produced variety show, Performers for Progress. We premiered "Like an Eagle" by University of Miami student, Spencer Robelen, with whom we worked last weekend.
On Saturday we met with Kari Betton, a graduate student at Columbia College Chicago, to work on her piece, "Morning Psalm." Kari arrived just before we returned from lunch and held an impromptu sectional rehearsal. Under her brilliant profusion of encouragement and advice, "Morning Psalm" rose to another level. Now we know which spots should sound mysterious or sweet, how to shape the ends of certain phrases, and which sections carry over into the next without a breath. When we paused for some question and answer time, we learned that the piece is called "Morning Psalm" because Kari woke up one morning with one of the phrases in her head, fully formed with text and accompaniment. Having a sense that the text was bilblical, she looked up the psalm and kind of reverse-engineered setting the rest of the text from that phrase kernel.
As soon as the workshop with Kari wrapped up, we squeezed into my office for a Skype session with Julie LeDuc, an undergraduate composer and violin major at Indiana University. She gave us good feedback on her piece, "Kyrie." While Kari's influences were more along the lines of contemporary choral composers like Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, and Paul Mealor - flowing homophony with extended and lush harmonies - Julie's compositional voice is more aligned with Arvo Pärt and Sven-David Sandström - minimalist and contrapuntal with great control of tension and release. We spent time infusing the Kyrie text with a sense of imploring and crying out. Julie told us, "When I look at the world I see so many people who are hungry for love and who are searching for meaning in their lives. The whole piece is a prayer crying out with sorrow for all those who have been hurt through lack of love and who are searching for healing and new purpose." That insight definitely gave us new purpose in how to sing her work!
After the session with Julie, we fought World Series traffic for the second day in a row to perform again at Miramonte High School. Both the Friday and Saturday performances were well-received by the friends and family in attendance. Spencer told us last week that he initially wrote "Like an Eagle" for a different competition at school and it didn't win. So he put it away, thinking it would never get the chance to be performed. Then he learned of the Chanticleer competition and sent the work our way. As LAB XII sang his piece this weekend, one phrase in particular seemed especially poetic: "...and I am finally taking wing."