|Student Singers and Community Choristers Tune Up to Perform Mozart Requiem
November 11, 2009
By Emily Matras '12
On Monday evenings, the walls of the Sloan Building choral room at Davidson College reverberate with sound as members of the Concert Choir rehearse for their Monday, November 23, performance of Mozart's Requiem. But students aren't the only voices heard. For the past two-and-a-half years, the choir has enrolled a unique blend of student, faculty, and community singers.
Never a fan of the "mystification of the arts," Concert Choir Director and Professor of Music Ray Sprague looks forward to the November 23 concert as a chance to share a piece of classical music that much of the Davidson public might not have heard before.
The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in Duke Family Performance Hall. General admission is $15, or $10 for seniors, and $5 for youth under 18.
The Concert Choir was originally the larger of two all-student music department ensembles, along with the smaller Chamber Singers group. When he arrived at Davidson, Sprague inherited a situation where the Chamber Singers members were required to also sing in the Concert Choir. As he considered the situation he felt the need for a change.
"It didn't seem right to me," said Sprague. "Chamber Singers students had rehearsals four times a week. By integrating the community, faculty, and staff into Concert Choir, students had the option of singing in either group, or both. We also created an ensemble for people in the Davidson community who might want to sing but don't have a lot of time for it. Finally, we have been able to create two entirely different choral experiences for the student musicians, as well as bring the masterpieces of the choral-orchestral repertoire to the campus on a regular basis."
The Concert Choir now counts eighty members. Half are students, about 20 are faculty members, and about 20 are townspeople. Sprague has structured the group to rehearse only one night per week, and toward production of just a single concert per semester. But what a concert it is! In addition to the singers, Sprague hires members of the Charlotte Symphony and special soloists to accompany the choir in its production.
The arrangement suits community singers well. Drew Crawford, a 2001 graduate who is now singing with the Concert Choir said, "When I sang as a student we had a regular schedule of concerts to prepare for. But with only one major concert a semester, we are allowed to spend a depth of time with a work that I have never been previously able to explore as a singer."
Sprague admitted that the cross-generational dynamics of the Concert Choir require some attention.
He said, "From the beginning, people were excited about getting together across generations to share a common passion. But at the same time, there was this uncomfortable sort of ‘who are you?' feeling on the part of many students. The challenge is creating an environment where people can interact and feel at ease."
Rehearsals do include time for that purpose. Crawford said, "The seven-minute breaks during practice become the social time that I look forward to, catching up with former classmates in Concert Choir and meeting other community members and current students."
Sprague takes great pride in the way integrated practices allow students to observe faculty pursuing non-academic avocations. "What I love about Davidson is that it is truly ‘liberal arts'," he said. "Professors explore interests outside of the classroom, and it's wonderful to see the joy of a student singing beside one of his or her professors. It gives them an opportunity to see each other in a different light."
For choir member and 2006 graduate Kathleen Cour, weekly practices have allowed her to strengthen ties to her alma mater. "I find out about events I may be interested in attending, and appreciate having the chance to form relationships with current students," she said.
Choir practices, held on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in Sloan 201, are always open, and Sprague encourages those curious about choir to stop by. "Everybody looks at classical music as this hands-off thing, but you don't have to know a thing about classical music to enjoy singing it and to be moved," he said.
"Concert Choir may not by the sexiest thing you can do, but the people who've come to it have not found it incompatible with the modern lifestyle," he continued. "And having an integrated choir sends a message to students that you can do this for the rest of your life."
For more information on the Concert Choir, or the "Mozart Requiem" performance, call 704-894-2848.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.