Choral Society Performs Family Weekend Concert

The Choral Society performed their annual Family Weekend concert this past Saturday. It featured spooky pieces, rousing songs, and even an opportunity for alumni to join in.

Choral Society Performs Family Weekend Concert
The Concert Choir donned baseball caps and invited alumni in the audience onstage to sing the college songs. Photo courtesy of Madeline Lawson ’25.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Choral Society, composed of the Concert Choir and Glee Club, performed their annual Family Weekend concert. The Glee Club, made up of all of the members of the Choral Society, performed first, while the smaller Concert Choir led the second half of the show.

The Glee Club opened with “How Can I Keep From Singing?” arranged by Sarah Quartel and featuring solos from Annika Bajaj ’25, Logan Maniscalco ’24, Caroline Pace ’24, and Shuyao “Charlotte” Wang ’24. The beginning was slow, meditative, and angelic, with the quartet showcasing clear, crisp notes. The tempo quickened once the rest of the choir joined in. In just the first piece, the choir’s vocals filled the entire hall and commanded the audience’s attention.

Gilbert Wermeling, the visiting director of the choral program, explained that the following pieces were intended to work in conjunction with one another. Indeed, they felt like a conversation, with “Dúleman,” by Michael McGlynn, featuring only the tenors and basses chanting low and dynamically. The choir switched without preamble to the next piece, an orchestral adaptation of “The Lobster Quadrille” by Irving Fine, was performed by the sopranos and altos and conducted by the graduate assistant, Patrick Spoor ’23. The latter piece was sillier, adapted for chorus from lyrics in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” whereas the former was an Irish folk song performed entirely in Gaelic.

The following two pieces interacted in much the same way: The sopranos and altos performed Eva Lestander’s “Jag Såg Dig,” a peaceful Swedish song whose tone was carried into “Heartland.” “Heartland,” composed by Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music Eric W. Sawyer, featured the tenors and basses, and although it worked as a progression from “Jag Såg Dig,” it featured simultaneously comforting lyrics and a minor, off-putting key.

The final piece the Glee Club performed, “To Sit and Dream” by Rosephanye Powell, was my personal favorite. It descended fully into the spooky vibe that the previous minor piece had set up, invoking a Halloween mood. It had a somewhat gothic tone, rendering its positive lyrics, “To sit and dream, / to sit and read, / to sit and learn about the world,” more like pleas than meditations. The choir yearned and began walking around the choral risers and small stage, grasping for one another and singing, “I reach out my hand to you.” They finished the piece by holding all of their hands out, begging the audience. The choir captured an eerie tone and still portrayed deep emotional range, showcasing all of the Glee Club’s skills. It was an excellent piece to close out their performance.

The Concert Choir followed with their performance. As they were a smaller group, about half the size of the Glee Club, it was easier to discern individual parts than in the Glee Club, meaning that the distinctive soprano part in their first piece, “Abendlied” by Josef Rheinberger, had room to shine. Each section got the chance to echo the melody, and the piece was followed by Adolphus Hailstork’s “The Cloths of Heaven,” which had a sonorous quality showcasing the vocal quality of the bass section.

The next song was the longest piece of the night, lasting a little over eight minutes. The tempo of “Six Chansons” by Paul Hindemith oscillated between calm and jaunty, remaining optimistic throughout. It had glimpses of unison between the sections, and spotlighted the group’s coordination.

The Concert Choir’s final piece, Elaine Hagenberg’s “By Night,” was the largest, completely taking over the recital hall. It featured Bajaj on violin; Hoey, Spoor, and Wang on percussion; and Karen Lee ’25 on cello. It was tonally similar to the Glee Club’s final piece, creating a seasonally appropriate spooky atmosphere. Lee’s low cello register bolstered the tenor and bass sections, and a snare drum played a marching beat as the piece became less spooky and more triumphant.

The rest of the Choral Society joined onstage wearing Amherst baseball caps to sing the college songs — “Oh Amherst, Our Amherst,” “Paige’s Horse,” and “Hand Me Down My Bonnet” — with the last conducted by Spoor. Wermeling invited any alums in the audience to join onstage, which included Kathleen Jones O’Connor ’90 and Maura Stevenson ’93, two friends who reconnected during the concert. They had no idea the other was coming, and they hugged onstage after performing with the Choral Society, making a sweet culmination of what Family Weekend is all about: Families are not just visiting the college, but briefly becoming a part of it. This is especially true for alumni who got to reflect on their time at Amherst.

O’Connor and Stevenson were in Choral Society together when they were at Amherst, and now, while visiting during Family Weekend, they were able to catch up and commiserate about their time in Choral Society.

About joining the group onstage, O’Connor said, “I was emotional. I felt myself with tears behind my eyes with ‘Paige’s Horse’ which is not an emotional song at all and had no real resonance for me .… I don’t know what it was.”

“I was delighted that they invited us back up again,” Stevenson agreed. Still, referring to the lowered participation in Choral Society since the 1990s, she said, “Candidly, it’s a little sad, because we had 15 percent of the student body in formal choirs. It was the biggest thing [at Amherst].”

Yet, they were both pleased at the proliferation of different arts groups on campus, particularly orchestra and dance groups. “The new generation brings new life and new ways,” O’Connor said. “But it was a great experience to be a singer at Amherst College.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misidenified the Concert Choir as the Glee Club.