By Hollyn Scott
“Please raise your hand if you are not a music major,” says Conductor J.D. Burnett, turning away from the packed audience inside the Hodgson Concert Hall to look at his pupils. Laughter quickly fills the hall with amusement as almost all the hands of the UGA Women’s Glee Club fly into the air in response to their conductor’s request.
The love of singing was on full display at Thursday night’s UGA Choral Showcase as students from all backgrounds and majors came together to share not just their vocal talents, but their passion for performance with a room full of Athens, Georgia community concertgoers.
The Second Thursday Concert Series was held on the third Thursday this March due to a schedule conflict with the university’s Spring Break, but that is not the only thing that made this month’s concert series unique. Unlike previous shows which usually feature one or two of the school’s talented performers, the UGA Choral Showcase featured five different choral ensembles, including: The UGA Hodgson Singers, The UGA Men’s Glee Club, The UGA Women’s Glee Club, The UGA Collegium Musicum & The African American Choral Ensemble.
Thirty minutes before the doors to the concert hall opened at 7:30 p.m. the lobby was crowded with a well-dressed variety of people. When the doors opened around 7:10 p.m. people began to carry their conversations into the venue, but silence ensued as the lights dimmed and the first ensemble made their way onto the stage.
The UGA Hodgson Singers, led by conductor Daniel Bara, opened the evening with Daniel Elder’s “Ave Maria.” The 46 singers’ rendition of the familiar tune was soft, sweet and a beautiful start to an evening of music.
The 30 members of the UGA Men’s Glee Club, led by conductor J.D. Burnett, took the stage next to perform the following four songs: Robert Shaw and Alice Parker’s “Whup! Jamboree,” Randall Thompson’s “The Pasture,” Gwyneth Walker’s “Jump Right In,” and Deke Sharon’s “What I Like about You.” The rhythm of the set built up from first to last; with a playful rendition of “What I Like about You” ending the ensemble’s performance on a joyful note.
The 46 members of the UGA Women’s Glee Club, also led by conductor J.D. Burnett, performed David Child’s “I Am Not Yours,” Stephen Hatfield’s “Las Amarillas,” Lennon/McCartney’s “Obladi Oblada,” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.” Intentionally mimicking the rhythm of the Men’s Glee Club set from slow song to fan favorite, it was evident that the women were eager to sing “Georgia on My Mind” as they crushed the familiar tune with style and grace.
Ready to perform their four selected songs, The UGA Collegium Musicum’s 20 members gracefully entered the stage to join Conductor J.D. Burnett. They performed Orlando Gibbons’s “The Silver Swan,” Jacques Arcadelt’s “Il bianco e dolce cigno,” Felix Mendelssohn’s “Lerchengesang,” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “The Turtle Dove.” This set stood out because it included both a French song and a German song, which was thoroughly entertaining even though the audience (most likely) could not understand the lyrics.
Back from their one song introduction, The Hodgson Singer’s reclaimed the stage with a set that deviated from the previous ensembles’ four-song set list. Conductor Daniel Bara explained to the audience that this set included six “charming little mixtures” from Ivor Davies’s “Prayers from the Ark,” in which the performers would sing from the perspective of the Little Bird, the Cat, the Mouse, the Raven, and the Dove. At first it was unclear what this meant, but as the songs began I picked up on how the style of singing sonically represented that of each different animal, which is a testament to how well the singers were able to execute the concept.
Led by Conductor Gregory Broughton, the African American Choral Ensemble’s 48 members performed three songs, including, Adolphus Hailstork’s “My Name Is Toil,” Hall Johnson’s “I’ll Never Turn Back No Mo,” and Stacey V. Gibbs’s “Great God Almighty.” All three of these songs were lively and loud, commanding everyone’s attention and leaving no room for monotony.
Finally, the members of each ensemble reentered the concert hall to perform their closing number in the form of Hall Johnson’s “Ain’t Got Time to Die.” The song was the perfect selection to end the night. It was energetic, loud and entirely satisfying, leaving the entire audience standing in applause well after the singers had left the stage.
Dressed in a color scheme of black, white and a touch of red (lipstick for the women and handkerchiefs for the men), each member in the five different ensembles appeared as a united front, echoing the collaborative nature of their vocal performances. The showcase was entertaining and pleasant to the ears, but the real magic of the concert came from the sincerity of the student singers. As they sang, their animated facial expressions changed seamlessly from focused and dramatic during songs like Orlando Gibbons’s “The Silver Swan” to upbeat and cheerful during songs like Gwyneth Walker’s “Jump Right In.” Flawlessly executing their cues, the students had chemistry not only with each other, but also with their conductors, initiating systematic, but genuine cheers and applause after each song.
Whether or not you have a high choral IQ, witnessing the evident passion for singing from a group of college students on a Thursday night, most of whom are not even music majors, is truly inspiring. Their love of music, dedication to their vocal craft and authentic energy while performing was so honest it made you want to go home and start working on that novel you’ve been putting off or that painting you’ve been meaning to draw. Whatever it is you are passionate about, the students that performed not only gave their community a night of entertainment, but also a feeling of motivation that was sure to carry on well after the final note was sung, earning the UGA Choral Showcase a perfect score of 5 out of 5 music notes.