This weekend was the Juniata College Concert Choir’s Spring performance. At this show they presented all the work they have been practicing and perfecting since January, all of which they performed on their recent domestic tour through Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. It featured traditional religious songs and several songs of Czech origin, two of which were written and composed by Antonin Dvorak. It was a moving auditory and even visual performance, and one that I will not soon forget.
I first heard the Concert Choir fifteen or so years ago when I was in kindergarten. The Shuler Theater in Raton, New Mexico, is run by a man named Bill Fegan, a Juniata Alumnus and a master at getting hard to get performances to come to a small middle-of-nowhere town. Bill managed to get the choir to swing through Raton on their Southwest domestic tour and although I don’t remember most of the performance there is one that stands out in my memory.
The choir had come down from the stage and had spread themselves out in front of and around either side of the audience. I don’t remember the song or even the tune, I just remember that even at such a young age I was in some sort of awe. I relived this awe this weekend as the choir neatly removed themselves from the stage and positioned themselves around the audience. The first song they sang in this formation was Remember Me. The Baritone’s deep voices perfectly balanced with the soprano’s high tones, and the Tenors and Altos blended it all together to make a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece. I don’t remember this song so much for the tune or even the words, but for the emotional response it brought. Throughout the entire piece I fought with being happy as it seemed that two souls were going their separate ways and moving on. But as the song went on, I realized that it was really someone saying goodbye for good, and the final line of “Remember me and be sad” hit home.
I have listened to a fair number of choirs during my life, but none so powerful as the Juniata Concert Choir. While many of them are wonderful singers, none except for their director Russell Shelley are what you would call professionals. Yet this group of young individuals comes together and manages to not only sing well but to also convey a breathtaking amount of emotion that caused the lady sitting behind me to exclaim “Oh, wow” after every song.