On Wednesday evening last week, the TAISM Choral Department presented a splendid concert in the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts, featuring students from Grade 6 and above.
The programme opened with breath-taking poignancy, under the capable direction of TAISM choral conductor, Melanie Brink, with the 15 members of the High School Amis Honour Choir singing “Northern Lights”, a Latin text by the young Norwegian-born composer, Ola Gjeilo, a cappella. It was a stunning prelude to what was to prove a perfect evening of choral music from ensembles of various sizes. The title or theme for the 70-minute programme was ‘This Is My Voice’ and dotted throughout the evening were anecdotes from the seniors themselves about what their voices mean to them, and their impact on the wider world.
They were joined in a smooth segue by members of the Concert Choir and pianist extraordinaire, Yumi Nishiguchi, to sing ‘The Voice’ composed by Irish composer Brendan Graham for the 1996 Eurovision song contest, but here arranged for small choir by Roger Emerson. There was no doubt that these talented young people are more than just good singers; they think and express themselves through their voices and their love of singing, defining their individual identities in a communal activity.
Thinking the stage was pretty full already, the audience was taken aback by the entrance of the Horizons Singers — 6th, 7th and 8th Graders — filling the risers to capacity and packing the stage to bursting. The song which resulted was powerful and expansive, exploiting the massed choirs in “Baba Yetu” by Christopher Tin and Chris Kiagiri — a Swahili adaptation of The Lords Prayer — against the individual voices, aided by microphones, of Aakrit Gokul, Leo and Lili Guzman.
Credit must go to the coordination skills of the choral conductor, Ms Brink, as well as her formidable musical and expressive capabilities, drawing out the best from each of the considerable number of students in front of her — more than 180 in total. It was followed by an arrangement by Philip Silvey of the traditional American folk song, “Nine Hundred Miles” for the whole ensemble, and this gave the opportunity for some cameo solos from 8th Graders, Laszlo Dorr, Jessica Stolz, Grace Griffin, Nicole Lugo and Liam Leibel.
The whole programme was performed without a single sheet of music; the students learnt all their music by heart and only the intrepid accompanist was allowed to have a score. In a joyous, exciting mood the Concert Choir performed the powerful, “Festival Sanctus” in Latin by John Leavitt, dynamic with its syncopated rhythms and sizzling piano part. It was followed by the gentle contemporary composition, “When the Earth Stands Still” by Don Macdonald sung a cappella.
Next came the folk-like, “She Sings” by Amy Feldman Bernon, sung by a rearrangement of the Kindred and Concert Choirs with haunting, flowing lines of poetry set to lyrical strands of music.
In dramatic contrast and a refreshingly new style, “Nyon Nyon” by Jake Runstead was an exploration of the sonic landscape of the human voice, using made-up words and effects, such as the flanger, wah-wah pedal, drum and bass, effecting a fully fledged vocal orchestra using only the human voice. It was extremely funny as well as thought provoking and does credit to the maturity of these teenagers.
Towards the end of the recital came the most spell-binding performance of the evening. A male-voice ensemble of just eight singers without conductor, led by Ethan Brink, rendered the evocative, “Dominus Vobiscum” by Jacob Narverud with such meticulous attention to expression, timbre and close ensemble blending, it left a haunting memory to savour and take home. It began in perfect unison, a cappella prayer in Latin, and grew to infuse interesting harmonies, metres and rhythms, sung by the well-tuned Octet. Well done.
It could only be followed by the whole company’s Finale of “We are the Voices” by American composer Jim Papoulis and the sound reached the mountain tops and valleys of Ghala. Andrew Elbin provided a subtle Djembe accompaniment, and gradually the piece built up to a grand ending with all 180 voices in full throttle. It proved the adage by John Muir which has become the TAISM Choir motto for this year: “You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you”.