Catching Fire

press-3320 Seraphic Fire – and The Kings Singers, Chanticleer, Cantus, Stile Antico, VOCES8, The Hilliard Ensemble, The Sixteen, The Monteverdi Choir, Musica Sacra, Conspirare, The Tallis Scholars, Voices of Ascension, The Swingle Singers, Continuum, Anonymous 4, the Cambridge Singers – I’ve barely started listing small vocal ensembles and choirs which are truly excellent by any measure of choral integrity.  These choirs have beautiful tone, they sing in tune, they are wonderfully synchronized, and they project an understanding of the texts and different music styles over history and genres.  In fact, choral music seems to be experiencing a boom these days.  In addition to the hundreds of professional and semi-professional choirs, there are school choirs, college and university choirs, community choirs, church choirs, children’s choirs, prison choirs, corporate choirs, gay choirs, choirs for mentally challenged adults, choirs for wives of servicemen, and even a choir I know of for self-identified “non singers.”  And the media is responding, with the hit TV show “Glee”, movies such as Sister Act I and II and the new movie “Pitch Perfect,” the British hits “The Choir” and “Last Choir Standing,” and the French film “Les Choristes.”  Flash mobs – including Seraphic Fire at a mall for the Knight Foundation’s “Random Acts of Culture” series – doing everything from Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” to “The Sound of Music” and Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” are huge YouTube hits.  Newest of all developments is the Virtual Choir, organized by American composer Eric Whitacre, with thousands of individual singers in virtual performances of two of his pieces.

In 2006, Chorus America, an organization that serves professional and amateur choirs, estimated that there are 42.6 million people singing in over 250,000 choirs (many singers sing in two or even three different groups).  Considerable research on children’s choirs proves the educational, social, and even physical benefits of singing for children.  Chorus America’s study found that adults who sing in amateur choirs participate at higher rates than the population at large in charitable work and in the political process.    So choral singing is not only fun, uplifting, and educational, it is good for you and your community!

So why do people sing in choirs – and why do we love to hear good choirs?  The three top reasons that people cited for singing in choirs in a 1997 survey were:  1) a love of singing; 2) the beauty of the music; and 3) the personal enjoyment.    Add to this the grandness of sound that many singers value, and what emerges is a picture of an activity that feeds the head, the heart, and the body.

This evening’s performing ensemble, Seraphic Fire, was formed over ten years ago by its director, Patrick Dupré Quigley.    Their name comes from a line of poetry by Samuel Medley (1782):  “In heaven the rapturous song began/And sweet seraphic fire/through all the shining legions ran/And strung and tuned the lyre.” Based in Miami but drawing singers from all over the country, the group has recently been nominated for two Grammy Awards for music by Johannes Brahms and a CD of Christmas music.  Quigley, educated at Yale and Notre Dame, believes that choral music by unaccompanied voices has a special way of reaching people who usually don’t like classical music:  “It’s the first music, the first art.  It has the essence of humanity that nothing else does.”

The group has now added an orchestra, the Firebird Chamber Orchestra, to their music-making, and has established The Miami Choral Academy in partnership with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a tuition-free afterschool program for elementary students in economically disadvantaged communities.    In doing so they purposefully address the research which shows that musical experiences in childhood are a predictor of future academic success and lead to life-long involvement in music.   “To see kids who barely have anything respond to this great gift of music is very rewarding,” said one member of Seraphic Fire who also works with the Academy.

Rewarding to their audiences are the exquisite performances Seraphic Fire gives around the country.  One reviewer in North Carolina mentioned their “purity of tone, precise diction and choral unity that were…flawless.”   A concert at Oberlin College led one reviewer to write that at the end of the concert “you hated to see them go.”  They had distinguished themselves “as an ensemble of individuals who sing with supple, effortless tone and perfect bland, and produce pure, strong, ringing chords that can raise the hair on the back of your neck. “  Hair-raising choral music?  You bet!

By Dr. Barbara L. Hall
Centre College H.W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Music
Chair of Music Program

***

hall_barbaraBarbara Hall is professor of music at Centre, where she has taught since 1980. She has held the Stodghill Professorship in Humanities since its inception in 2004 and is the former chair of the division of arts and humanities.

A veteran teacher, conductor, and performer, Hall directs Centre’s choral program, which includes student groups such as Centre Singers, Women’s Voices, and Centre Men. She teaches humanities, music history, theory, and conducting. Hall founded and directs the Danville Summer Singers and Sounding Joy, an auditioned women’s ensemble of 30-32 singers.

Hall is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Collegiate Choral Organization, and the College Music Society. She is past governor of the Association of Teachers of Singing.  Hall earned a B.M. at the University of Michigan, an M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a D.M. from Indiana University.

To read about Hall’s work with the student performance of Dido and Aeneas, click here.
Visit the Seraphic Fire performance page on NortonCenter.com.

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