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The Knox College Choir released a CD of pieces performed during their 2017 tour in France. The CD consists of music in five languages, including American folk songs, The Lord's Prayer in Russian, Latin hymns, a percussive choral piece in Haitian Creole, and of course, several pieces in French.
The project began with the choir of 2016-2017, led by Professor of Music and Director of Choirs Laura Lane. That year, nearly a third of the choir were seniors who had participated since their very first year at Knox. This wealth of experience provided an opportune moment for the group. As Choir President Lara Braverman puts it, "Every year that you're in choir, your relationship with the people in choir and also with Laura gets stronger," noting that "because we had such a strong senior class, we were able to do more with the music and go farther in the music than we had in the past."
Lane elaborated on their tenacity: "They surpass themselves." she said. "They expect you to challenge them, and they're humble about it. They know they have more to learn."
During the 2017 tour on which the CD is based, the choir performed to standing ovations from French audiences, who would clap in rhythm at the end of each performance. Lane would stay up late at night analyzing each performance, making changes for the next day. Braverman remembers working through compositional notes on the tour bus, anticipating little time for preparation upon arrival at the next venue.
The progress that the choir made—both with their compositions and with each other—was so powerful that it changed Lane's own process. Upon returning to the U.S., the choir accomplished what Lane calls "the fastest recording session I've ever done in my whole life," and many of the tracks were recorded in single takes. Lane attributes this feat to relentlessly refining over the course of the tour: "They were so good, they were so well prepared."
The choir program for the French tour brought together a wide range of styles and moods, and is bound by a polish and unity that Lane says comes from "singing from memory many many times." The French music ranges from a widely recognizable piece by Debussy to Canadian composer Lionel Daunais' take on a poem by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. In addition, Lane said she looks not only for music from the country that they visit, but also "from a place in the new world" with "a diaspora that people would connect with," which led to the inclusion of a "virtuosic" piece by Haitian-American composer Sydney Guillaume.
What is perhaps the standout track on the album, however, is "Leaves" by composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. The choir had previously performed Ešenvalds' work, but this piece was commissioned specifically by Lane. The result was based off a poem by Sara Teasdale and is a secular yet spiritual commentary on the human condition. In Braverman's words, it was "one of the ones we sang the best because it meant so much to everybody."
"Leaves" ended up being the song that seniors chose to perform for Commencement. According to Lane, it was "hard for them to sing without crying. It's so moving and inspirational, and it speaks to every person who sang it in a deeply personal way."
The CD can be purchased by emailing Laura Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on January 11, 2018