Chamber Singing in the Modern Age
While a capella groups have popularized singing among university students, few students know that traditional choirs are thriving as well. On the Hilltop, the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir offer opportunities for students to hone their vocal skills under assistant professor of music Frederick Binkholder, while studying musical compositions ranging from Bolivian baroque masses to contemporary works by Philip Glass.
Participating in a choir at the university level provides students of all experience levels with unique performance and travel opportunities. The Chamber Singers traveled to Bolivia this past April to perform in the International Baroque Music Festival and sang works originally performed by the indigenous peoples of Bolivia living in Jesuit missions. At John Kerry’s bi-annual “Our Ocean” conference at the Kennedy Center this past September, the Concert Choir and the Chamber Singers also performed Eric Whitacre’s “Water Night” and had the privilege of working with the renowned conductor himself.
The Chamber Singers and Concert Choir performed their annual joint concert on Nov. 16, with the theme “Art in a Data-Driven World.” This semester’s musical selections included songs that combined ancient text and contemporary composition, such as renditions of “Ave Maris Stella,” “I Sing of a Maiden,” and completely original arrangements, such as Philip Glass’ simply titled work: “Three Songs for Choir.” In an interview with The Hoya, Binkholder said that the performance of more modern compositions was a welcome change of pace from traditional arrangements.
“For me, it was a great learning experience. In my art form, most of the compositions have been around for hundreds of years. For this concert, because we had to learn a modern composition for the performance at the Kennedy Center, I decided to specifically program music that had been composed within the past 10 years,” Binkholder said.
Phillip Glass’ “Three Songs for Choir” utilizes compositional motifs that depart from the baroque style that is typical of Chamber Singers pieces, including pages of repeated syllables and abrupt cutoffs. These songs also feature text written by the late Leonard Cohen and text from French poems. Binkholder’s selection of purely modern works demonstrates the incredible variation within the contemporary choral music scene, proving that even the classical music genre is ever-changing.
Surprisingly, very few members of Concert Choir and Chamber Singers are music majors. Singers in Chamber Singers and Concert Choir study everything from economics to nursing and involve themselves in other organizations such as the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Services and Georgetown University Jewish Life. For some, including Concert Choir President Madison Stingray (COL ’17), singing in choir provides an outlet for the stress induced by Georgetown academics.
“Concert Choir is great, because at a school like Georgetown, where everything is very competitive and stressful and high-intensity, it’s really nice to be able to have a place to go where everyone’s working together, and there’s a great sense of community. You’re doing something love, but you’re not competing,” Stingray said.
Despite the drastic difference in styles between traditional choirs and a capella, singers at Georgetown often find that the two go hand-in-hand. Nine of the 13 students in Chamber Singers are in other singing groups. These groups sing songs ranging from Top 40 hits to barbershop classics to gospel music, proving that Georgetown singers’ love of music transcends genre barriers. Ultimately, the decision to sing in choir stems from a collective passion for music.
Binkholder, in his 17th year of conducting Georgetown choirs, shares this passion for music and seeks to foster musical growth in his students. University students provide a new perspective on music, which encourages Binkholder to grapple with music on a daily basis.
“They are so smart and inquisitive, and I love that. I can program anything I want, and they accept it and enjoy it. I try to engage my students, and they most definitely engage me. It keeps everything interesting, because I want there to be a dialogue. My entire teaching philosophy is for growth, but also to engage,” Binkholder said.
While students continue to make leaps and bounds academically, the collective musical knowledge of this campus never falters. Next week, the two choirs will be hosting a sing-along concert of Handel’s “Messiah” and will be accompanied by the Baroque music ensemble “Modern Musick.” This concert will be held in Dahlgren Chapel on Monday, Dec.5. Doors open at 7 p.m. The concert is free of charge, and no singing experience is required.