Voices Raise In Sacred Song
By Kathy McCardwell

Last Friday night in Finney Chapel the Oberlin College Choir, directed by Dr. Hugh Ferguson Floyd, presented a concert of sacred and secular songs, including two Psalm settings, two English folk songs, three songs by Debussy, and a work for organ and choir. The performance drew a large audience, many of whom probably also attended the Oberlin College Choir’s wildly-successful first performance of the year in “Songs for the Journey: A Festival of Hymns,” which was performed to a standing-room-only audience and may be syndicated for national broadcast. Though this concert was smaller in scope than the first concert, the audience was still treated to a fine performance of enjoyable choral music.
In grand choral tradition the first three pieces on the concert were all sacred pieces. The first piece, “God is Gone Up,” for organ and chorus, was based on Biblical texts and incorporated lines from the Psalms. The organ accompaniment, provided by Timothy Spelbring, was tasteful and highly appropriate to the robust piece. The vocalists sang energetically and jubilantly, and the unison passages were particularly well-rehearsed.
The next two pieces were Psalms set to music by Charles Ives and Georg Schumann, respectively. Ives’s setting of the Sixty-Seventh Psalm was tonally innovative in its use of polytonality; two different keys were being used simultaneously, with the men’s parts beginning in G minor and the women’s parts beginning in C major.
The choir seemed determined to make this work; though it began somewhat tenuously, a bit into the piece it really settled in and was quite impressive.
“Das is ein köstliches Ding (This is a precious thing),” the Schumann setting of Psalm 92, was technically secure and artistically enjoyable. Dynamic contrasts were prominent in this piece and the general tone production was high quality, especially in the softer passages.
Next on the program was Claude Debussy’s “Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans (Three Songs of Charles of Orleans).” As tenor Timothy Spelbring said, “They are influential works in the choral repertory and quite fufilling to sing. Indeed, they have all of the panache that one would expect from a French composer such as Debussy.”
The first of these songs, “Dieu! qu’il la fait bon regarder (Lord, you made her lovely to gaze upon),” was sung tenderly and elegantly. The second song, “Quant j’ai ouy le tabourin (When I hear the little drum),” was the song of a maiden who would rather stay in bed and think of her lover than go to the May Day celebration that she hears outside. This song featured soloist Elizabeth De Shong, a senior voice major; she sang the part admirably and with remarkable maturity. The rest of the choir accompanied her, imitating the sound of the “little drum” and the laughter and singing of the May Day revelers. The final song from Debussy was the stormy “Hiver, vous n’etes qu’un villain (Winter, you are a scoundrel),” for a vocal quartet and accompanying chorus.

The quartet, comprised of senior Teresa Wakim, first-year Katherine Lerner, senior David Kurtenbach and sophomore Jonathan Green, sang well together; they were not simply four soloists singing together, but were a unified quartet working together toward the same musical goals. The choir accompanied unobtrusively, allowing the quartet to shine.
The next two pieces were both arrangements of English folk songs. The first, “My Sweetheart’s Like Venus,” arranged by Gustav Holst, is the song of a man telling of the beauty and unfaithfulness of his lover. It was simply sung, and the third stanza was texturally rich.
The final piece on the program, “The Sailor and Young Nancy,” arranged by E.J. Moeran, was sung cleverly and pleasantly with a true “folksy” flavor. The various sections of the choir traded the melodic line back and forth with great fluidity, keeping the piece moving right along despite the changing tone colors.
The audience was very appreciative of the fine performance, and was receptive when the conductor offered an encore performance of “My Sweetheart’s Like Venus.” The choir then performed once more Holst’s arrangement of the tune, creating a lush, yet refined sound.
The Oberlin College Choir turned in a fine performance; Dr. Floyd, the conductor, addressed the audience several times to explain the musical significance of each piece and made the concert educational as well as enjoyable.

Though short, this concert was a satisfying introduction to several rarely heard pieces and, overall, an enjoyable and educational performance of choral music. In the end, as alto Elizabeth De Shong said, “If the audience is pleased, then we have done our job!”


November 8
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