Amherst Choral Society Blossoms in Spring Concert
The Choral Society performed their Spring Concert last Saturday, featuring pieces written by Amherst community members and honoring the group’s graduating seniors.
On March 25, the Amherst College Choral Society, composed of the Concert Choir and Glee Club, performed its Spring Concert to a packed crowd in Buckley Recital Hall. The groups were conducted by Director of the Choral Music Program and Lecturer in Music Arianne Abela and accompanied by Maura Glennon on piano.
The smaller Concert Choir performed before being joined on stage by the other singers to form the Glee Club. The evening was filled with Amherst music, with lyrics by Amherst poets and compositions by Amherst faculty, students, and alumni.
“Unclouded Day” was the first performance. With a strikingly powerful opening, the gospel song featured heavy call and response from the group. The world premiere of “One Voice,” written specifically for the Choral Society by Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music Eric Sawyer, followed. It featured solos from Alice Rogers ’23, Alex Conklin ’25, Shuyao Charlotte Wang ’24, Katya Besch ’25, Anna Hogarth ’23, Sam Wright ’23, and Nat Roth ’23. The vocals in this piece, which were reminiscent of a woodwind ensemble, were calm but still engaging.
Finally, the Concert Choir performed “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Using the text of the William Butler Yeats poem by the same name, Sam Wright ’23 composed the piece, a hopeful but slightly sorrowful meditation on the water. This is not the first time Wright’s compositions have echoed through Buckley — in February, his composition thesis, “A Second Seed,” premiered. This piece had the same folk-inspired feeling as his thesis, with massive ranges in each section and a resonant final note.
The Glee Club then joined the stage. Abela composed its first piece, “We are the night ocean,” but she did not conduct it. Instead, Wang came down from the risers to lead the group. The piece was accompanied by Gil Wermeling on electric bass and featured Patrick Spoor ’23, Cameron Mueller-Harder ’22, and Brenna Kaplan-Keshguerian ’22 as soloists. The song only had three lines — a poem by Rumi (“We are the night ocean filled with glints of light. / We are the space between the fish and the moon, / while we sit here together”) — but the dynamic piece’s layers and complexity rose to a cresting wave, never losing the audience’s attention.
The next two songs were composed by alumni, both of whom were in attendance, and turned Amherst poetry into melodic harmonies. Commissioned by the Class of 1973, these pieces premiered for the first time at the concert. The first song, “Acquainted With The Night,” was hymnal and rich, featuring the words of Robert Frost’s sonnet of the same name. The piece was authored by Scott Wheeler ’73, and the next song, “I sing to use the waiting,” was composed by Paul Salerni ’73. The choir sang Emily Dickinson’s poem with a meditative, slightly melancholic tone, ending with a high vibrato solo from soprano Annika Bajaj ’25. Both pieces were dedicated to Lewis Spratlan, a composer who taught both Wheeler and Salerni at Amherst and worked at the college for 36 years.
For the next piece, the Glee Club sang an upbeat melody that had members clapping and laughing along with the music. “Walk Out on the Water” featured percussion and electric bass, and each section was individually featured in the spotlight.
The Concert Choir then returned to the stage, performing “Your Spring,” composed by Wang with text by Haoran Tong ’23. It evoked the first feeling of a spring breeze, floated on by returning birds. Rogers led a meditative glimpse into the blossoming daffodils and budding trees in her solo. “Angel Band” was contemplative and wistful, a hymn taken from minister Jefferson Hascall’s 1860 sermon, “My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast.”
The Concert Choir’s final piece certainly had the most infectious energy. The group stood in a semicircle to sing “Kanaval,” an ode to the Haitian carnival season that was sung in Haitian Creole. It was an exciting piece that the choir clearly loved performing — at one point, they jumped up and shouted laughing, before leaning in, as if to tell a secret. It featured solos from Wright, Andres De La Torre ’22, and Shay Hernandez ’23, as well as Kai Glashausser ’23 and Lennon on percussion.
Finally, the Glee Club returned for the end of the concert, a compilation of Amherst songs and odes to the college. They sang “Three Gifts,” featuring Kaplan-Keshguerian as an American Sign Language interpreter, who matched the grace and rhythm of the piece. The group also sang the classics “O Amherst, Our Amherst” and “Hand Me Down My Bonnet,” the latter led by Graduate Associate in Music Alyssa Tsuyuki. In line with tradition, Tsuyuki held a shield to protect herself from the Glee Club members throwing pieces of candy at her during the line “First she gave me candy / and then she gave me cake.” Abela invited alumni in the audience to come on stage, and they gladly joined in.
The concert also honored the graduating seniors. This is the Choral Society’s last performance with the seniors, and they wore purple stoles to commemorate their time with the group. The seniors sang three pieces alone. The first two were serenades to the class, as they were standing in two semicircles at the front of the stage. “Miyagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” was performed by the tenors and bases, while “Parting Glass” showcased the senior sopranos and altos. The final piece of the night was “Senior Song.” The rest of the Glee Club left, and the seniors sang while passing around and drinking from a golden chalice full of a mysterious liquid. It was a playful but bittersweet ending to the night, and the lights dimmed on the Class of 2023’s final Choral Society performance.