Centenary College Choir presents Masterworks concert at Shreveport's First United Methodist Church


March 7, 2017

SHREVEPORT, LA — The Centenary College Choir continues its 75th anniversary concert season with a Masterworks program on Sunday, March 19, at 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church of Shreveport. The concert is part of the Texas Street Arts Series at First Methodist and is free and open to the public.

The concert features two contrasting pieces, though similar in their sensibilities to older music sonorities. Ola Gjeilo’s Dark Night of the Soul is a piece that alternates frenetic minimalism with evocative cinematic soundtrack qualities. This deeply moving text is by 16th century Spanish poet and Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross, portraying a spiritual crisis moving toward a more perfect union with God. The work is set for chorus, string quartet, and piano, the latter featuring Centenary’s own Dr. Ross Smith.

The longer portion of the program presents the celebrated Requiem by 20th century French composer Maurice Duruflé. Contrasting with the more dramatic and fiery requiem-based works of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Duruflé Requiem is one of the most serenely beautiful choral-orchestral works of the repertoire. Based on Gregorian Chants for the Mass for the Dead, Duruflé surrounds these ancient melodies with beautiful, lush modern harmonies to illuminate traditional prayers for the departed. The work is set for chamber orchestra and features Ray Peebles, organist at First United Methodist Church.   

“Works like the Duruflé Requiem are considered by universal artistic acclaim to be classics of the repertoire, akin to how we might view a Shakespeare play or a Charles Dickens novel,” says Dr. David Hobson, director of the Centenary College Choir. “Both of these pieces reflect authentically on difficult circumstances for people: Duruflé’s setting of ancient intercessory prayers for beloved ones who pass on to the eternal and Gjeilo’s depiction of a faithful person’s separation and then more perfect union with God.”

Preparing these two difficult pieces has been an exciting challenge for the Choir, one that junior Alex Shannon calls “an honor.”

“The ever-changing meter in the Requiem is hard to adapt to, but Duruflé’s purpose is to bring to life the text and the style of Gregorian chant. Thus, one of the challenges of this piece is that it feels older than it actually is,” says Shannon. “Ola Gjeilo’s Dark Night of the Soul is challenging as well. Gjeilo’s fast ‘seven-eight’ tempo marking illustrates the fast pulsating character of the protagonist; it almost feels like he is running away from God, thus increasing his heart rate. The juxtaposition of the next section helps us to understand that he is falling back into unity with God.”

Choir alumna Rebecca Vacha ’16 is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) at Centenary and has remained involved with the group, even leading a few recent rehearsals of the Duruflé piece. The experience of conducting has given her a different perspective on the scope of the challenge presented by this concert.

“I believe the Duruflé is the hardest piece that the Choir has done since I’ve been at Centenary,” says Vacha. “Part of learning the piece well, for me, has come from a lot of listening. This allows me to hear how the piece is intended to move, how transitions are supposed to happen, and how it all fits together. The experience of conducting this piece is far different from performing, and it definitely takes a lot of time and concentration in order to achieve understanding.”

Hailed early in its history as “America’s Singing Ambassadors,” the Centenary College Choir has performed in 32 countries on six continents. The Choir was organized in 1941 by Dr. A.C. “Cheesy” Voran and since that time has embraced an innovative approach to collegiate choral music, engaging audiences through emotional, heart-felt music making. The Choir will continue its tradition of international travel and performance this summer with a tour to England and France.

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