Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 ACDA performance- Lawrence University Concert Choir

(Rick Bjella)

Saturday at ACDA's 2009 national convention was already amazing- performances to die for from the Incheon City Chorale from Korea and the Cantoria Alberto Grau. These two international choirs used so many elements to deliver their musical messages- including staging, lighting, costumes, etc. The only American choir to come close to the approach of these amazing performances was also on Saturday- Rick Bjella's choir from Lawrence Conservatory.

Their program began with an extremely haunting score (by Aussy composer Steven Leek) called Knowee, the Aboriginal name for the sun. In the folk tale, Knowee was once a woman who lived in a time of darkness. One day she left her cave with her bark torch in search of food for her young sun but became lost, and eventually fell off the side of the earth, at which point she and her torch became the sun, traversing the skies in constant desperate search for her way back to the son she left behind in the cave. In the staging of the piece, a few female singers with lanterns roamed the totally darkened concert hall issuing piercing laments and calls; the choir joins in eventually as the piece progresses. This piece was eery, heartbreaking and magical. The rest of the program also included some great off the beaten track pieces from Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, etc. Tying the program together was the element of folk percussion, played brilliantly by Lawrence percussion professor Dane Richeson. Their final piece was a Venezuelan folk tune with some very fun choralography by Yvonne Farrow.

I have known Rick Bjella for awhile now; he has conducted my music yet I haven't been able to attend those concerts. So this, oddly enough, was my first chance to see him conduct. He's all there in the moment with his choir- nothing left for reserve and no prisoners taken. I'm sure he and the choir were exhausted (in a good way) physically and emotionally from all the preparation this program demanded.

Rick' s programming for this concert reminded me of some of the very creative themed programming and staging that Brad Homes has done with his Milliken University Choir- notably at the ACDA convention in Miami in 2007, but elsewhere as well. Here are two minds who think alike in their desire to create sophisticated programming themes, interesting stage presentation, and unusual music that challenges themselves, their own singers, and the entire audience.

(Note: Rick Bjella will lead the conductor's choir at the Illinois ACDA Summer Retreat this July, hosted by Illinois State University)

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