Moving mosaic

A lively approach to programming allows Harvard Collegium and RCS to explore diversity in music and the creativity of soloists in the fall concert on Nov. 4. 

By Cherie Hu '17

In many ways, choral concerts are a bastion of tradition. Standing statically in SATB formation, singers often perform pieces drawn from classical repertoire that for many are inaccessible or unrecognizable, interspersed with brief applause from the audience.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and the Radcliffe Choral Society will be breaking free from those traditions with ONE MUSIC, the annual fall concert 8 p.m. Friday Nov. 4 in Sanders Theatre. This marks my first year singing as a member of HRCM, and I could not be more thrilled to engage with such a diverse, experimental program.

Not only will we be venturing beyond traditional choral repertoire – performing show tunes, international folk songs and modern pop music alongside classical works by Gabriel Fauré and Tomás Luis de Victoria – but we will also be presenting the program as a “moving mosaic,” weaving from one piece to the next without pause, while moving around the stage and interacting with each other as performers in the process.

Moreover, the concert will feature more than 20 student soloists, many of whom had an integral role in the creative decision-making process for the concert. Some will be singing solo parts alongside the choir; others will be performing covers of songs of their own choosing at the front of the stage.

The first solo of the evening, sandwiched between two classical choral works, will be a rendition of Carole King’s Way Over Yonder featuring Phoebe Costello ‘19 and Elbert Gong ‘19. For Costello, this performance is a rare opportunity to take greater stylistic liberties in a traditional concert format.

“I’ve been singing Carole King’s music for a long time, and I’m really glad this concert has given me a platform to showcase my individual style, which is more soul-R&B-jazz, apart from the choir,” says Costello. “The song also fits well with the theme of the concert, which is all about the power of music to uplift us and provide us with comfort, support and understanding whenever we need it.”

Later in the program, Ryan Song ‘17 and I will be performing our own arrangement of singer-songwriter Moses Sumney’s Man on the Moon for cello, piano, solo vocals and choral accompaniment. Both of us had the fortune of watching Sumney open for James Blake at the House of Blues in Boston last month; upon further research, we found that many of his songs aligned well with the themes of ONE MUSIC, namely how we can contextualize our understanding of community and relationships in nature.

While the original version of Man on the Moon feels aptly sparse ­– for guitar and vocals only, with a heavy dose of reverb – our arrangement is much thicker and designed for a larger performance space, which imbues the song with new meaning. “The song and arrangement itself feels very ethereal, celestial and beyond this world, so I hope this performance will have a similarly transcendent effect on the audience emotionally,” says Song. “I hope the song can serve as a sort of comforter, and remove people from whatever in the world is troubling or worrying them, and remind them that the core essence of people’s existence ultimately lies in relation to other people: who you care about, and who you love.”

This is just one of many recent and upcoming efforts not just by Collegium and RCS, but also by other ensembles on campus to allow students to showcase their own talents and artistic backgrounds beyond the confines of a normal group setting. The process of ideating and rehearsing ONE MUSIC in particular has been much more flexible and fluid than in previous seasons, as we try to expand our performing capabilities and make our own, distinct mark on non-traditional repertoire.

“While this immense amount of flexibility can sometimes be frustrating, it’s also allowed us to express ourselves more openly and organically than in a traditional concert, which tends to be more rigid in structure in terms of having a distinct beginning, middle and end,” says Song.

The creative belief at Collegium and RCS is that music is about community and human connection, and ONE MUSIC aims to underscore our goals to make choral music a more accessible, communal, healing and unifying experience for performers and audience members alike. “We’re reimagining what it means not just to present choral music, but also to really bring the audience in,” says Costello. “It’s always the best feeling, when you walk away from a concert in which the music really resonated with you. We hope the diversity and movement in this concert will accomplish that same feeling.”