Easter Choral Celebration!
The smell of flowers greeted our family as we hurried into the Andrews University Chorale & Singers’ “Easter Celebration!” concert. Inside the Howard Performing Arts Center, muted swells of music reverberated behind the auditorium doors. We entered the balcony. The first song was well underway, and soloist Beta Siriwattenakamol’s (freshman, music education) clear strong voice sung out in anguish, “I’ve been in the storm so long!” Settling ourselves in the seats, we knew this was going to be a vivid performance.
Near the beginning of the program, University Chorale’s & Singers’ Director Stephen Zork informed us that students from the University would be "sharing not only in solo but in leadership,” during the night’s events. He explained further that “Each conductor has their own interpretation of the piece, passed to the choir.” Then, he let the program speak for itself. Zork walked to the back row, joining the choir as Graduate Conductor Maricel Ebora (Master of Music: Performance) took her place in front. Next to me my father, ever appreciative of discipleship, whispered, “That’s beautiful.”
The song “Be Still and Know” swelled and soared with rounds of “Come behold the work of his hands” and “Alleluia.” After that the next graduate stepped up, and led the choir in the next song; beginning with somber humming and the cry, “clear our heart O God!”—both haunting and mournful. Then, sincere and low, the simple conclusion: “that we may see.”
For “All Things New” a string quartet joined the stage, adding their clear notes to the hopeful melody. The song rose to confidence in new beginnings, then gathered to a quiet close, ending with a resolute chord by the quartet. Three of the group left, leaving Andrew Gagiu (sophomore, engineering) on cello to begin the next song, “O Sacred Head,” with a heart-gripping introduction. This song began mournful and contemplative; slowly growing to a tragic “for this my dying sorrow / my pity without end…” and then finishing resolutely with a soft but sincere, “Lord let me never never / outlive my love for Thee...O sacred head now wounded;” Gagiu on the cello slowly drew out the last quavering note.
During “In Paradisum,” directed by Graduate-Assistant Conductor Jessica Link (Master of Music: Conducting), we chuckled as we caught conductor Zork moving his hands involuntarily to the rhythm. Later Zork introduced “Christ lag in Todesbanden” as the first of seven movements composed by Johann Sebastian Bach about the life, death and resurrection of Christ. “It’s one movement, but it contains ... all the different parts of the resurrection,” he explained. “We’re invited to not only sing but dance ‘Hallelujah; Death, where is your sting!’ It’s almost a mocking dance.” Listening carefully, we could hear some of the mocking in the song during the multiple rounds of "Ha-ha le, ha-ha le...ha-le-lu-jah."
Other features of the evening included an octet singing “God So Loved the World” in simple yet beautiful rounds, and “Gloria,” beginning with dissonance but transitioning to circles of jubilance.
The second half of the program was a special mini-program dedicated to Graduate-Assistant Conductor Chelsea Lake (Master of Music: Conducting), which the program explained was “given in partial fulfillment of requirements for the Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting.” The choir took turns singing in halves for some songs, and together for others; presumably to give half the choir a break while the other half sang. At the end of the mini-program the audience applauded graciously for over two minutes; both for Chelsea Lake as well as the other graduate and undergraduate conductors: Ebora, Megan Mocca (Master of Music: Conducting), Kleberson Calanca (Master of Music: Conducting), Heidi Ordaz (Master of Music: Music Ministry), Link, Joshua Goines and Ronnie Zanella (Master of Music: Conducting).
Lake finished the program with candid closing remarks. She said, “I remember my freshman year, singing in the choir and thinking ‘Wow, look at all the conductors…” The audience laughed. “I just want to say thank you to everyone,” Lake concluded, thanking her family, friends and the audience for their support and for this experience.