From Boulanger to Bernstein, College Chorus and Garnet Singers Celebrate Centennials

On Saturday, December 8th, at 3:00 pm in the Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers, directed by Joseph Gregorio, will perform their fall concert. The Swarthmore College Chorus is a mixed ensemble comprised mostly of students, but is also open to faculty, staff, and community members. The Garnet Singers is a subset of the Chorus, composed of approximately twenty-four students, focused on works more intimate than those sung by the Chorus.

The Garnet Singers will be performing works in some way connected with the year 1918, and the Chorus will perform pieces by Leonard Bernstein. “1918 turns out to have been a significant year in music history as well as in world history,” Gregorio said.

Gregorio has always wanted to program Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with the Chorus. Since it is the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, it seemed like the perfect timing to have such a program. In addition to Chichester Psalms, Gregorio chose to incorporate a few songs from West Side Story. “To represent Bernstein’s oeuvre more fully, I thought it would be nice to round out Chorus’s program with a few songs from West Side Story, which has some interesting musical connections toChichester Psalms,” Gregorio said.

Gregorio also notes that coincidentally, 1918 was the year of the death of three magnificent composers: Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy, and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. To further explore the theme and significance of 1918, the Garnet Singers will be performing a set that includes one work by each of these composers. Additionally, several other pieces will be included in the performance that have roots in the events of 1918.

This fall concert will also feature an original work by Lili Tobias ‘19. “The ensemble is especially excited to perform the premiere of Tobias’s piece, which Tobias wrote for us as a musical reflection on Lili Boulanger’s song ‘Reflets,’” Gregorio said.

Another student, Deondre Jordan ’19, will conduct the performance of Stephen Chatman’s In Flanders Fields.

Over the last five and a half years, the Chorus has doubled in size, presenting a continual challenge for Gregorio as well as the members of the group. Everyone must adapt to the current size of the group in order to continue making music at a high level. “Both ensembles, along with student pianist Mia Shoquist ’21, have worked tremendously hard to prepare for our December 8 concert,” Gregorio said. “The Garnet Singers have not only put in a great deal of musical work, but have also given generously of their psychological energy to bring to life music that is sometimes emotionally taxing to sing.”

“As ever, I am coming to the end of the semester with immense gratitude toward all of the musicians in our choral ensembles for all they have shared of themselves to make the concert a success,” Gregorio concluded.

David Chan ’19