The Kenyon College Chamber Singers, clad in the traditional black, brought their spring concert back to the Hillafter spending the first half of break refining it on the road. Their performance in Rosse Hall on Saturday drew a considerable crowd.
Conducted by Professor of Music Benjamin “Doc” Locke, the Chamber Singers presented a diverse program of songs, ranging from 16th-century European psalms to African American spirituals to a comedic take on a South African temperance anthem. Tour performances in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire provided the Chamber Singers plenty of opportunity to perfect their setlist and engage in collaboration, a necessity for music selections so intricate and compelling. Throughout the concert they sang in practiced but spirited harmony, maintaining an air of professional unity.
One striking piece was Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf (The Spirit gives aid to our weakness),” a funeral motet in which the choir breaks into two competing melodies. Locke prefaced the song with its history, noting that it was composed for the funeral of Leipzig University professor Johann Heinrich Ernesti. It’s one of Locke’s favorite pieces: the divided chorus illustrates what Locke calls “the dichotomy of healing within the soul” that occurs during grief. The music wound together in a theatrical and unexpected manner, bringing a sense of melodrama to the classical piece.
Toward the end of the program, the Chamber Singers sang a pair of pieces which Locke described as “anti-drinking songs.” The first, “UMaconsana (Moonshine),” was composed by Reuben Tholakele Caluza. The performance featured lively hand gestures of simulated drinking and lyrical liberties which swapped the original text with phrases such as “the boys from Old Kenyon” and “the girls from Taft Cottages.” The choreography added a fun twist to the generally serious program.
The other anti-drinking song was “Die Beredsamkeit (Eloquence)” by Franz Josef Haydn. The Chamber Singers sang German lyrics that translated to, “Friends, water makes you dumb. We learn this from the fishes. But in the case of wine, the opposite is true.”
The performance culminated in a rousing rendition of the “Kokosing Farewell,” in which former Chamber Singers joined current members onstage for the choir’s signature song. The voices of Chamber Singers old and new blended harmoniously, a testament to the enduring legacy of Kenyon’s unofficial school song and the generational solidarity which its recurring performance guarantees.