Three school choruses join their voices

ADDISON COUNTY — Three local high schools have combined forces for the first time to put on a joint chorus concert of a Vivaldi masterwork.
Choruses from Mount Abraham, Vergennes and Middlebury union high schools will stage the performance on Thursday at 7:00 at the VUHS gymnasium.
“It’s really neat to combine forces, like how Vergennes and Mount Abe share a football team,” Mount Abraham choir director Megan LaRose said.
An orchestra composed of student musicians and paid professionals will accompany the singers. VUHS choral director Karen Jordan will conduct both the chorus and orchestra.
If combining groups of students who don’t usually sing together doesn’t present enough of a challenge, the combined chorus will perform Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” an early 18th-century Italian choral work whose parts are sung entirely in Latin.
LaRose said this is a unique experience for her students.
“What’s neat about this experience is the opportunity for the kids to sing with voices they don’t know,” LaRose said. “It will be fun for the boys, because there aren’t a lot of basses and tenors in the individual choruses.”
The chorus is composed of 75 students from Middlebury, 40 from Vergennes and 60 from Mount Abraham.
So far, they’ve rehearsed twice — once during a “field trip” to Middlebury, the other at an evening practice at Middlebury. Both rehearsals have been without the orchestra, with LaRose accompanying on piano.
LaRose said that the three choruses were able to get in sync fairly quickly.
“It takes a little adjusting, they all learned at slightly different levels,” LaRose said.
Jordan said the main challenge was finding time to rehearse in the middle of fall musical production season.
There will be one dress rehearsal with the orchestra this Wednesday evening, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the VUHS gym, the only time the two groups will have to practice before the performance.
The 12-person orchestra is composed of students and paid professionals. Jordan was able to find talent through her connections with the Vermont Youth Orchestra and Champlain Philharmonic.
Students also auditioned for several solo parts. Jordan, LaRose and MUHS chorus teacher Liz Lebeau selected the soloists, which include Zara London-Southern and Sara Byers from Middlebury, and Alix Kauffman and Joanna Tatlock from Vergennes.
The show will be 90 minutes in length. In the first half, the MUHS chorus will perform two songs by The Beatles, followed by the Mount Abraham chorus, which will sing two songs. The Vergennes singers will then perform three Christmas songs in their original languages — Italian, French and German.
After intermission, students will perform the grand Vivaldi piece. It will run about 30 minutes for the 12 sections of the work.
“Some of the sections are very short, just four measures, while the finale we call a marathon,” LaRose said. “They’re all different in style, character and emotion.”
Jordan hopes that the students come away with a more in-depth understanding of singing with orchestral accompaniment.
“I’m hoping the kids will understand the differences between singing with an orchestra versus a piano,” she said.
Lebeau, who said this was the first time her students will perform a masterwork in its entirety, echoed that sentiment.
“It is a good opportunity for the students because they can feel the piece in its entirety, and understand the themes,” she said. “This is a prayer; the words are repeated in different sections. The kids can understand the format of the piece, and how it all comes together.”
Jordan and LaRose said they hope the concert will build a better sense of community between the Addison County schools.
“The students really enjoyed the rehearsals,” Jordan said. “There is not as much of a rivalry anymore.”
Jordan conducted this piece 10 years ago with her Vergennes students. She said LaRose approached her earlier this year about doing the Vivaldi piece with all three choruses, and Jordan was enthusiastic.
Since it was necessary to hire professional musicians to fill out the orchestra, combining forces made the concert affordable, Jordan said. The musicians were the most expensive component of the production.
Jordan said she does not think it is feasible to do such a large project on an annual basis, but it is her hope that students get to experience performing in such a large ensemble at least once in their high school career.
“It’d be nice to do once every four years,” Jordan said.
Lebeau said she would like her students to use the experience to reach out to their classmates from the other schools.
“I hope the kids appreciate Vivaldi, build friendships within the choirs, and have a lifelong interest in music,” she said.

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