14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 11, Songs Sung with the Knoxville Chamber Chorale

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Good evening! Tonight, I bring you three gems that are representative of my time singing with the Knoxville Chamber Chorale (KCC), the small/select ensemble of the larger Knoxville Choral Society (KCS, more on them, likely tomorrow!).

Karen and I sang with both ensembles all six years we lived in Knoxville, although we originally only barely found out about the KCS in time to audition after moving in July 2010. We had sort of had a community choir experience in Martin under the direction of Dr. Mark Simmons (there were fits and starts like a lot of small community arts organizations trying to get off the ground) but it didn’t initially occur to us to look for a community choir when we first moved. We settled into a church choir fairly quickly, and then I think it was Karen who decided to look into if there other choir opportunities in the area. My semester hadn’t quite started yet (or was just about to) and even though we missed the two official audition dates, we emailed the address listed on the website and explained our interest and were given auditions on the first night of rehearsals. I’m ever so glad we found the group—even through many changes and many miles apart now, the KCS is still family, and we try to meet up with folks from the ensemble for dinner whenever we visit Knoxville to see my parents.

Singing in the Chamber Chorale was a quite different experience from singing the larger ensemble, which usually ranged from 60–100 singers depending on the concert. Chorale, however, ranged from maybe 24 when we started to around 30 the year we left. The group’s musical focus was delightfully varied: we were at home performing major historical composers (Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert all come to mind) but also contemporary composers like Whitacre, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Daniel Elder, David Conte, Z. Randall Stroope, etc. This was in part to the group’s flexibility and also due to changes in director. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and blessed to have had the fortune to sing under the batons of the late Bill Brewer, Dr. Eric Thorson, and Dr. John Orr. The pieces for tonight are representative of the kinds of variety that endeared KCC to me.

First up is a return to some Eric Whitacre, about whose music I wrote quite a bit the other day, and his Seal Lullabye, which I performed for the first time in one of the earlier years with KCC. I listened to this song SO many times when grad school was tough…between that and listening to the King’s Singers and some Morten Lauridsen, I not only survived grad school but also got the wheels starting on what would eventually become my rethinking of being a professional musician.

Second is a piece by Anton Bruckner, somewhat lesser-known I suspect (and tragically so, I would argue—more choirs should be acquainted with his choral works): Os Justi (1879). The song, though relatively short at only 69 measures, nonetheless requires a well-trained choir to perform (and stay in tune…), dividing in spots to 8 parts a cappella.

Finally, I’m closing out tonight that’s important for many reasons, but tops among them is that it was my re-introduction to VOCES8, a group I saw live in 2009 at ACDA Oklahoma City, bought one of their albums and loved it for a while but then subsequently largely forgot about. We performed their arrangement of Ben Fold’s The Luckiest on my last concert with the Chamber Chorale—emotionally loaded enough as that is— but then, serendipitously, was also the re-introduction of the group to Karen, who has just finished her year as one of the VOCES8 US Scholars and is now great friends with the current roster of VOCES8…it’s kinda amazing. We also had a chance to hear them sing again on a concert at Western Michigan last fall. Life-changing stuff.

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