As the crowd gathered into Skinner Hall at golden hour on April 22, friends and family alike collectively engaged in the excited murmur typically preceding a performance such as this one. For the next hour, those who made the trip to Vassar’s Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall would see the Vassar College Choir’s final performance of the year. As the setting sun cast long patches of shade along the aisles, the atmosphere of a spring evening felt perfectly befitting the elegance of the performance to come.
A roaring applause echoed throughout the hall as the 45 singers and director Christine Howlett took the stage. Dressed in all black, the choir’s outfits were representative of the orchestral, saintly theme of many of the evening’s songs. The choir began with Claudio Monteverdi’s “Beatus Vir,” a rousing early Baroque setting of Psalm 112. From the very first piece, it was evident how well the four voice parts worked with one another, both within their own respective sections and broadly as a choir. All performers were in sync, demonstrating the great amount of practice that went into the final product. However, I would say that the most moving parts were when all sections were singing their own respective melodies simultaneously, filling the audience with an undeniably chill-producing sound.
After a performance of two Chinese folk songs, Howlett provided an interlude and introduction to the group’s fourth piece, named “A Silence Haunts Me,” centered around a letter written by Beethoven describing his struggle with gradually losing his hearing, interplayed with perhaps his most famous composition ever, “Moonlight Sonata.” The director provided context for the piece’s inclusion before the performance, which necessitated long sessions of group discussion and thought during the group’s rehearsal time. Given the intimate nature of the piece’s subject matter, delicacy was crucial—an ideal achieved both metaphorically and literally. The dynamics remained purposeful and evocative throughout, allowing the words and instrumentation shine through. The choir’s performance of it was fittingly haunting, with the moments in which lyrics were combined with the iconic, beautiful piano of Beethoven’s work providing the most touching moments of the entire night. Reflecting on conducting it, Christine Howlett described, “ a piece like that, that has a lot of choice in it, is really fun, when it feels ready. And it did feel ready. People [in the choir] were really prepared, people were really invested, people were watching [me]. So it made it easy. It’s really exciting.”
The evening concluded with “Rejoice in the Lamb,” a piece which allowed select members of the choir to showcase their individual talents to the audience. A soloist from each voice part was given their chance in the spotlight. Suffice to say, each performer brought their own distinctive style to the party, making each section their own. “There are…pieces that take time [to appreciate], and then once you connect with them over time, you realize they’re great pieces of art,” Howlett shared. Choir member Madi Donat ’23 described, “Getting to do this piece and this solo was unlike anything I’d ever done before. I love how cute and tongue-in-cheek the solo is compared with the gravity of the rest of the piece, and the music is just so beautiful. Plus, it was amazing to do it alongside the amazing singers that are Shanti [Fowler-Puja ’22], David [Petersen ’22] and Rafi [Ettinger-Finley ’24].”[Disclaimer: Donat is the Humor Editor of The Miscellany News.]
Howlett also included a touching tribute to the group’s graduating seniors, whose cruciality to the choir shone through in their deserved moment of recognition. The nine students’ were named individually to take a bow in front of the crowd. Reflecting on the show as a whole, soprano Emily Schaffer ’23 said, “I think it went really well. I really enjoyed singing a bunch of different styles [at] this concert, and I can’t wait for the next one.” As the performance concluded, I, along with presumably the rest of the audience, had a similarly anticipatory sentiment. We left with a great appreciation for not only the commitment and dedication that this concert took, but also for the immense individual talent on display, excited for what was to come.