Every Wednesday night during the school year, up to 160 singers gather at Skidmore College to rehearse. Known as the Skidmore Community Chorus, they will perform works by John Corigliano, Sam Pottle, Michael McGlynn, Dan Forrest and Per Norgard on Sunday.
It’s challenging repertoire for a group that includes singers with a wide spectrum of musical experience.
“It’s a non-auditioned group. We never turn anyone away,” said Katie Gardiner, the director.
Some of the community members are new to singing in an ensemble, and for some, English is a second language. Others are retired music teachers, artists or even sing in another chorus.
“I’ve sung with the Battenkill Chorale for 15 years,” said baritone John Mielke of Greenwich. “I’ve sung in this chorus for five years.”
What makes it work for Mielke and for Gardiner is that the chorus also includes 90 students from Skidmore who make up the Vocal Chamber Ensemble, an auditioned group of singers.
Skidmore Community Chorus
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College
HOW MUCH: $8, $5
MORE INFO: 580-5321, www.skidmore.edu/zankel
“The community members often make personal connections to the students,” Gardiner said. “It’s so neat. It’s a unique thing.”
Mielke said working with the students brought back many happy memories; years ago he worked in academics and hadn’t been back on a campus until he joined this chorus.
The youthful singers also inspire.
“They get onto the new music really quickly. They’re very talented,” Mielke said. “It gives me a push to get going.”
Gardiner is in her fourth year directing the chorus. She received her master’s degree in choral directing from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and spent a few years teaching in public school. The students’ interests and capabilities often inform what she programs.
“They’re so curious. They want to know more and make a deeper connection,” she said. “They’re a stellar group of students. They eat up challenges for breakfast. So, I picked the repertoire to challenge. They also love poetry, which is a big component this season.”
That’s why she chose Corigliano’s “Fern Hill,” set to Dylan Thomas’ poem “Deaths and Entrances” (1946). Besides the beautiful poetry and gorgeous melodies, the piece gave Gardiner the chance to work on the tricky rhythms and the text to achieve “exciting consonants that give drama and vowels that give beauty.”
Violinist Josh Rodriguez, harpist Elizabeth Huntley and pianist Pat Hadfield will provide support.
Norgard’s “Wie ein Kind,” which involves made-up words, pitched yells, and sections in German based on Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry and the collages of Adolf Woelfi, tempts several singers who major in art, psychology and computer programming, as well as several who have read Rilke’s poetry.
“The Per Norgard, which is for a cappella choir, is such a wonderful challenge,” Gardiner said. “The timing was right to program it.”
Mielke said getting to sing the Norgard was just another reason he joined.
“This chorus’s repertoire is very different from the Battenkill,” he said. “It’s new composers. I’m curious. And I admire Katie. She’s young but she works well with everyone.”