A cappella group highlights FLC opening

Aleph Baumbach/Courtesy of Fort Lewis College

The 80-voice Fort Lewis College Concert Choir was one of several vocal and instrumental ensembles on display Friday night for the FLC Music Department concert at the Community Concert Hall.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

The Fort Lewis College Hawkappellas introduced themselves to the world last Friday night by “Walkin’ in Sunshine” with a mesmerizing rhythm: Bob-bop-BAH.

The newly formed a cappella group of 15 singers made its debut at the big opening concert of the FLC Music Department’s season. Five ensembles presented a variety of musical offerings, but the central theme wasn’t bop-bop-BAH.

The FLC Concert Band opened the evening with a quartet of works under an odd title: “Nationalities and Loves.” A brisk traditional march, a poignant tribute, a dreamy song, and a rousing satirical work set some interesting contrasts and showed the band’s versatility.

Director Marc Reed led the ensemble in three of the four works, starting with a very Souza-sounding set piece by Julius Fucick (Foo-cheek) titled “Florentine March.” Reed transformed his 60 disparate players, not all music majors, into one precision instrument.

“Song for Lyndsay,” justified the love part of Reed’s title, a spare but lush homage to the wife of composer Andrew Boysen Jr. And to conclude, Reed’s band blustered confidently through a brassy, sardonic march by none other than Dmitri Shostakovich. “Galop” lived up to its name, and its minor key jauntiness served as an acerbic chaser to Fučick’s sunny optimism.

In the middle, guest conductor Jonathan Latta led the band in a darkly emotional work. Composed by Ronald Lo Presti, “Elegy for a Young American” pays tribute to John F. Kennedy and was written after the assassination in 1963. Latta noted, in one of the few spoken comments of the evening, that November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the national trauma

“Elegy” opened with an almost inaudible clarinet line and intensified, expressing edgy anxiety and deep grief. The six-minute piece concluded with a sense of troubled calm. This intense, stirring work set u p the choral half of the program titled “Remembrance and Reflection.”

Charissa Chiaravalloti, director of choral studies, led four different ensembles in a wide ranging selection of music under another banner, “Remembrance and Reflection.”

The 80-voice Concert Choir explored the theme by singing five very different reflections on death. Opening with a shimmering Russian Orthodox prayer for the dead, the singers followed with Mozart’s “Dies Irae,” a full-throttle warning about God’s wrath. In contrast again, Brahms’ “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” created an ethereal view of heaven. To close, the choir sang two American spirituals offering rest and redemption.

Like the concert band, the big choir performed as a well-disciplined and well-tuned ensemble, articulating every text clearly and dramatically intensifying the dynamics. The jazzy arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” with Adam Swanson accompanying, stretched the singers to shift mood from reverence to reconciliation. And “Soon-Ah Will Be Done” proved the large choir could go from a whisper to fortissimo with confidence.

The 26-voice Chamber Choir, mostly music majors and ringers like Professor Ginny Davis, reinforced the theme of remembrance in three works. Opening with a beautiful chorale and fugue by Heinrich Schütz, the singers traveled on a moving line through extremely tight harmonies. “In Remembrance” from Canadian composer Eleanor Daley’s Requiem, turned out to be the heart of the concert as it directly addresses grief: “Do not stand at my grave and week.” The fast paced “Dulamán” addressed memory, and paved the way for the splendid Hawkappella entrance.

Organized and christened by Chiaravalloti, the group is made up of 15 singers. They create new music in new ways. A cappella means “in the manner of the chapel,” and implies without accompaniment. It’s an old form undergoing a modern revival. Small inventive ensembles exist on almost every college campus from the Eastern Ivies to Big Ten Universities, so it’s high time FLC joined the fun.

The Hawkappellas acquitted themselves Friday night with style. Each work had a different mood, formation, and soloist. Some soloists took advantage of stage mikes while others didn’t and balance suffered. A small criticism given the fact that the group gave “In Your Eyes,” “Gravity,” and “Walkin’ on Sunshine” tremendous verve.

The FLC Men’s Choir has grown in confidence and size to 16 voices. Again, Chiaravalloti’s singers performed in different styles. In the center of three works, Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” hovered quietly in contrast to the closing “Please, Mr. Columbus.” Full of barbershop harmonies, it also had barrels of jokey choreography.

A jivey “Sh-Boom” opened the guys’ set, and I wish it had closed the entire concert as it was a huge crowd pleaser. Sh-boom vied for bop-bop BAH as the exit rhythm of the night. Looks like a good year for FLC music.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

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