Voices to ring out in 20th century song

By Noah Lopez

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The University of Arizona School of Music presents its Fall Choral Association performance of Choral Ensembles this Sunday, Oct. 8, at the SS. Peter and Paul Church at the corner of Campbell and Adams. The concert is free.

To most people, the mention of choir evokes memories of participation in a church chorus, or worse, last year's Gregorian chant craze. Dr. Josef Knott, the UA's latest director of Choral Activities, hopes to change those perceptions as he readies for Sunday's Fall Choral performance.

"I think this Sunday's concert will be stunning," chuckles Knott. "I think the main thing we're doing this season, is that each choir is doing a piece, or several pieces, from this century. Most from within the last forty and fifty years."

October 8 marks the season opening performance of the Dr. Knott conducted Arizona Chamber Choir, a highly select choir with a membership of approximately 35 voices, as well as other groups from the UA Choral Department.

Membership to all choirs is open to all capable students, the choir makeup consists largely of graduate performance majors and graduate choral conductors. As such, it also presents the most challenging material.

The Chamber Choir "is performing the most 20th century pieces. We're doing a piece called "Whisper Baby" by Stephen Chatman, an American composer . the choir whispers throughout the piece, and then, towards the end, hums."

The upbeat Knott stresses the importance of more recent choral work as a whole.

"This is the music of our time. I feel that it is important that our students sing in the language of the day. Normally our programs have been more conservative."

The Department of Choral Activities is home to eight choirs, totalling approximately 400 voices. The choirs include the Chamber Choir, the women's University Honor Choir, a Faculty/Staff Choir, and the University Symphonic Choir.

The University Symphonic Choir, conducted by new hiree Dr. David Devenney, is perhaps the second most important choir in the program, especially considering its scope of participantsŸ the Symphonic Choir consists of 36-40 outstanding vocalists from the entire university community.

Knott hopes to convey that diversity through his musical selections as well.

"We're singing a variety of pieces. We have pieces by Brahms, Hemberg, two Spanish pieces by the composers Sojo and Estevez . Rager . Ligeti, who is a Hungarian composer who is most famous for one of his choral pieces that was featured in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," although we're not performing that particular piece," offers Knott. The music variety includes "both classical and semiclassical work, and the 20th Century songs with strange sounds," says Knott, laughing. "The songs have sounds we don't normally hear in this type of performance. Shouting, whispering, talking. We're trying to get into the avant-garde!"

The department was first started forty years ago by university conductor John Bloom, with each season beginning in October. Auditions for the choir are held at the beginning of the school year. "Those who audition might bring a prepared piece with them, or we might ask them to sing a patriotic song or folk song of their choice. We also require some examples of sight singing," Knott adds.

The opening performance tends to be a big draw, combining students, friends of the singers, and a broad cross-section of the Tucson and UA music community. "We have a lot of faculty and staff attending, as well as students. It's a good turnout. People should arrive early," suggests Knott.

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