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Chorale thrives on unique talents, versatility

Rama Gottumukkala | Friday, November 17, 2006

Bearing the official seal of the University, the members of the Notre Dame Chorale pride themselves on their versatility. Songs from the likes of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven escape their vocal chords weekly. But their greatest pleasure may be the most simple one – seeing their audiences light up, no matter where they play or what they perform.

At a show in Cleveland during the group’s 2006 winter tour, Chorale president Michael Suso got a glimpse of just such an occasion.

“It came time to sing the ND fight song and alma mater,” the senior said. “When singing, the look of joy on the faces of ND alumni and friends in the audience as they sang along with us conveyed clearly to our entire group for what and for whom we were performing. It was a very humbling experience and stood as a unifying moment for the Chorale.”

Comprised of 52 men and women from nearly every major, including both undergraduate and graduate students, the Chorale acts as the official concert choir for the University. Open to students from all walks of Notre Dame life, the group hosts campus concerts and periodically sets out on nation-wide tours.

“Though we are a group of roughly 60 singers, we share in Notre Dame with thousands of alumni and friends,” Suso said. “When singing, we represent those that have come before us and those that will take our places long after we have graduated.”

Chorale’s devotion to its proud lineage takes center stage this Saturday. On the eve of the final home football game of the season, the vocal troupe will perform in the fall concert alongside the Chamber Orchestra, one of two joint performances this semester. Held at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, the event will begin soon after the Notre Dame-Army game.

“We have been rehearsing the pieces that we will be performing during our fall concert since September,” Suso said. “This concert is our chance to not only sing, but convey the composer’s feelings and passions through song.”

Among these composers are classic musical poets like Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner and Franz Peter Schubert. And lest the audience completely lose itself in the 18th and 19th centuries, the group makes time for a few sentimental favorites – the Notre Dame Victory March and the Alma Mater.

Transitioning freely between classical, baroque and renaissance music, the Chorale offers its listeners a unique sound rich in tone and emotion. According to Suso, the group’s mission is a simple one.

“When performing, as long as we convey the original intentions of the composer and put smiles on the faces of those in the audience, we could not be happier,” he said.

Led by director Alexander Blachly and accompanist Päivi Ekroth, the Chorale continues to define itself as a renaissance choir – one that melds the varying talents of its members to breathe life into timeless song. The founder-director of Pomerium, an internationally acclaimed vocal ensemble, Blachly has been active in his field for over 34 years as both performer and scholar.

“He’s an esteemed, world-renowned musician – a consummate professional,” Suso said. “We’re privileged to learn from such a versatile musician and director.”

Ekroth is the perfect representative of the group’s strivings for versatility – a talented accompanist who can sight read and play music without any prior knowledge of the piece, Suso said.

“She is truly an invaluable asset to the Chorale and an exceptional musician,” he said.

Every year, the Chorale invites new members into its fold. This year’s iteration is no different, according to Suso, and has flourished with a unique blend of singers.

“Approximately half of the Chorale is made up of new voices. We have a great blend of new talent and veterans,” Suso said.

Beyond this weekend’s festivities, the Chorale has one more signature event on the horizon this semester – dual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 9 and Dec. 10. Besides their spring concert, Chorale will be traveling to New Zealand next May. If all goes as anticipated, the group will be touring with the prestigious New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

For now, though, Chorale’s focus is on just one performance – the next one. Under the bright lights of the Leighton Concert Hall, the group’s versatility will once more be front and center.

“Those in attendance will hear classical, renaissance, chant and a taste of what makes Notre Dame great,” Suso said.