Chorale and a capella span centuries with song: US vocalists lead listeners through love and war at winter concert

Nearly 100 parents, siblings, students, and faculty gathered in the Upper School (US) Chorale Room for the annual Winter Choral Concert at 7:30 p.m. on January 26 and 4:00 p.m. on January 27. The groups performed again for students and faculty during X block on Monday, January 28.

The concert included 16 songs performed by the Knightingales, the school’s male a capella group; Voices of the Knight, its female a cappella group; and the co-ed Chorale. Chorale began rehearsing music chosen by Chorale Director Joe Horning during the first week of school, while the a cappella groups collaborated with him to find songs that fit the voices in each group. The songs ranged from “O Occhi Manza Mia,” a 14th century Italian choral piece written by Orlando di Lasso and performed by the Chorale, to “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” an ABBA song performed by Voices of the Knight. 

Mr. Horning said he chose the first three pieces, “O Occhi Manza Mia,” “The Water is Wide” arranged by Mark Hayes, and “Bring Me Little Water Silvie” by Huddy Ledbetter, since they connected thematically. The first and second songs are both about love, and the second and third both come from American folk traditions, he said.

“They are also both on the subject of water as the sustenance of life and—at least in the second piece—as a metaphor for the challenges we encounter on our journey from one shore to another,” he said.

“Over There,” by George M. Cohan, “The Lads in Their Hundreds,” an A.E. Houseman poem set to music by George Butterworth, and “Silent Night,” by Franz Gruber, all relate to World War I and are by American, British, and German composers. Mr. Horning chose these because of the centennial anniversity of the Armistice on November 11, 2018.

“The first piece is upbeat and optimistic, saying that the war is going to be easily winnable. It’s really a propaganda song,” he said. “The second one was about the reality of going off to war and the terrible loss of life.” 

Layla Chadha P’21 said she enjoyed learning the stories behind each song when Mr. Horning introduced them at the concert.

“[‘The Lads in Their Hundreds’] touches on themes of courage and sacrifice surrounding what was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars,’ World War I,” Layla said.  “So many timeless lessons and takeaways in that one piece stay with you long after the performance has ended.”

In their rendition of “Bring Me Little Water Silvie,” the Knightingales incorporated clapping and stomping, choreography that Alex Berhane ’21, a tenor in the Chorale and Knightingales, said added excitement to the piece. 

“It made the performance more lively and gave it more energy, even though the choreography took more time to rehearse,” Alex said.

Pierce Haley ’19, a bass in Chorale and Knightingales, said the groups dedicated a lot of time to preparing the songs, rehearsing eight hours the week before the concert.

Priya Devavaram ’21, an alto in Voices of the Knight and Chorale, said learning and rehearsing “Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Bublé was especially challenging for Voices of the Knight. 

“We learned it the closest to the concert, and there were a lot of different moving parts, so it was a little unsteady,” she said. “But it went really well during the performance.” 

Bea Scanlon ’21, a soprano in Voices of the Knight and Chorale who had a solo in the Bublé song, said being comfortable singing in front of a crowd took practice. 

“I used to get nervous,” she said, “but I’m so used to practicing the songs and singing publicly that I don’t get nervous anymore.”

Diana Vetrano P’21 attended both concerts and said the second was better.

“The performers were louder and much more robust,” she said. “They were all more relaxed, more confident—and they smiled a lot more.”  

Aanika Patel ’21, a soprano in Chorale and an alto in Voices of the Knight, said she enjoys the chorale class because of the friendships she has formed. 

“I love this class—it’s a great environment,” she said. “We’re all really good friends, and we can bond over the challenging songs and the late-night rehearsals.”

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