On Friday night, we had the pleasure of hearing the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the direction of Dr. Julian Wachner, performing at New England Conservatory. This GRAMMY-nominated ensemble is based in New York City but has gained international acclaim for their exceptional artistry and versatility. Friday’s program featured a diverse array of musical selections.
The concert began with a series of sacred compositions from the 20th century: “Hail Gladdening Light” by Charles Wood, “Faire is the Heaven” by William H. Harris, and “O sacrum convivum!” by Olivier Messiaen. These three pieces allowed the ensemble to showcase their sensitivity to each other and to the nuances of the music. Right from the start, the audience was taken in by the clarity of the harmonies and the purity of the group’s tone.
After the Messiaen, the group paused to explain a tradition that they have at Trinity Wall Street. Each Sunday, the choir performs an improvisation in which they are all given a sacred text (but no sheet music) to follow. One member of the ensemble serves as the leader and uses hand signs to indicate changes in chords, modes, and key areas as the improvisation develops. The full group maintains harmonic structure by droning, and two or three singers at a time step forward to improvise melodic lines on the text. The improvisation ends with The Lord’s Prayer. During Friday’s concert, the choir performed a full improvisation for us as they would on a typical Sunday at Trinity Wall Street, and they invited us to join in singing a monotone during the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, Dr. Wachner came out to lead us in our own improvisation with the text of “Happy Birthday.” The audience improvised together in the Lydian dominant mode, and Dr. Wachner showed us how he would indicate harmonic shifts with his hands. We thoroughly enjoyed this portion of the concert and we hope to continue exploring improvisation of this nature in the future. We recorded an excerpt from the audience’s improvisation and have attached the recording below – please excuse the prominence of our voices in the foreground!
Next on the program was one of the conductor’s own compositions entitled “An October Garden,” which was split into four sections, one for each season. Dr. Wachner played the piano, and a flautist, a clarinetist, and a bassist joined the choir on the stage. Each section of the piece had its own characteristic style that distinguished it from the other three. “October Garden” was followed by another piece by a composer who was present in the room, the beautiful “Given Sound” by Trevor Weston. This piece used a short text, which lent itself well to interesting repetition and layering, and there were some spoken sections that brought out the text in different ways.
The last three pieces on the concert were all arrangements of spirituals: “Precious Lord” arranged by Arnold Sevier, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” arranged by Stanley Thurston, and finally a rousing performance of “Jeremiah’s Fire!” arranged by Rollo Dilworth. The second to last piece featured a passionate and moving performance by bass-baritone Jonathan Woody on the solo. After the last piece, the audience rose to its feet and continued to applaud enthusiastically until the ensemble returned to the stage for an encore. The choir treated us to one final performance before we all adjourned to the lobby, where we were able to greet and congratulate Scott Mello, a tenor in the ensemble and a former Ithaca College interim voice professor. We had a wonderful experience at this concert, and we hope to be able to hear them live again in the near future!
-Sunhwa Reiner, IC ACDA President, and Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
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