In 2004 The American International School of Muscat founded the first ever Festival of Choirs held in the Gulf region and Middle East. Since that beginning, over 2,000 students representing dozens of schools and nationalities, have shared in heart and song in TAISM’s Festival of Choirs. Last weekend, students from 16 schools, from Austria to Yangon, representing 38 nationalities convened at the school campus in Ghala to rehearse, refine and polish the 7 songs which they had been learning in their home countries for the preceding weeks.
Three international schools from Muscat participated, and they hosted the students and teachers from India, Vienna and other Gulf countries. Special tributes should go to TAISM’s Choral music teacher, Melanie Brink, and Director, Kevin Schafer, whose vision began the annual programme 14 years ago.
This year’s guest conductor was Dr Nicole Lamartine, Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wyoming. The training and workshops were aided by accompanist, Kathy Heedles from AIS Vienna and a very special composer-in-residence, pianist and educator, Kyle Pederson from the US Three world premieres were composed especially for this weekend. The title of this year’s Festival was “A Door Opens” but there was also a theme of “hands”, and this was presented in a pre-programme film entitled, “Look at Your Hands”, depicting all the creative things hands can do.
The Concert was a culmination of 15 hours’ work over two days, and took place in the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts last Saturday evening. It opened with the 160 students in 3 groups singing as they processed on stage. “Gitanjali Chants” was composed as a concert-opener by Craig Hella Johnson in 2006 to a translation of a poem by Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore. ‘Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs, It was they who led me from door to door. …You came down and stopped at my cottage door.’
It was a modern plainsong chant setting sung in English, and was a perfect a Capella opener for the evening with only an organ-drone, while dancer, Hannah Garbutt, moved gracefully across the stage.
It was followed by the first composition by Kyle Pederson, “Hands are Knocking”, featuring coordinator Andrew Elbin on tubano drum, the composer on piano, and a bass guitar. Using ‘Alhamdulillah’ for a vocal ostinato, the piece evolved effectively with 2 soloists, Juan Lopera and Emma Larson. Interlocking rhythms were cleverly introduced by 3 students knocking the giant hand-drum door on stage, constructed for this concert by Jeff and Amanda Lovett, with beautiful, poignant melodies sung by the girls especially.
“Mata Del Anima Sola” (Tree of the Lonely Soul), composed in 1998 by Antonio Estevez, used four Spanish guitars to exciting rhythmic effect. Columbian tenor, Juan Quintana from TAISM, and Leo Castiblanco, sang solos passionately in their native Spanish. In contrast came J S Bach’s a Capella madrigal, “Come Now, Sweet Death”, but the contemporary arrangement by Sandberg allowed for some rising hand movements during the effective aleatoric, discordant conclusion, led by Faith Grenier. It was a refreshing reworking of that beloved 17th Century classic and performed with 21st century expertise and conviction!
A highlight of the programme was Kyle Pederson’s second premiere of the night, a Jazz-inspired, “Silver Lining” with composer on piano and students on drums and bass guitar.