Orchestra and Choir Team Up to Tackle Mozart

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Photo Courtesy of Sally Horowitz Photography: The Transylvania University Choirs and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Brittany Benningfield performing Mozart's "Coronation Mass".

This past Friday, April 6, 2018 at 7:30 PM, Transylvania’s Chamber Orchestra and Choirs teamed up for a spring concert in Haggin Auditorium. The concert highlighted the growth of the two groups and exhibited the fine-tuned skill of the singers and musicians.

The Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Ben Hawkins, started the program off with Georges Bizet’s Suite from the incidental music to “L’Arlésienne” (the original theatre orchestra instrumentation). The powerful and dynamic piece included seven movements that highlighted the abilities of each section. The flutes and violins carried whimsical melodies, and the strings all met up to propel the movements forward throughout the piece. The instrumentation was peaceful and dreamlike, and the melody told a story that left each audience member writing inside their own head.

The group of musicians consisted mostly of current students but had one or two guest players in a little over half of the sections. Between the Orchestra and Choir’s performance, Dr. Hawkins took the time to recognize the two senior members of the group and to present two awards. Peyton Thomas and Gage Abell, both violinists, are the two graduating seniors of the orchestra. Thomas serves as the concertmaster and Abell as the principal violinist. Each year, Transy’s Chamber Orchestra selects recipients for two awards: Outstanding First Year and Outstanding Service Award. The Outstanding Service Award, which is usually given to a senior, was presented to Thomas, who Dr. Hawkins accredits with much of the group’s growth over the last four years. The Outstanding First Year Award was given to violinist Grace Kim, who Dr. Hawkins noted has become an essential part of the orchestra in just one year.

Photo courtesy of Sally Horowitz Photography: Dr. Ben Hawkins recognizing the two graduating seniors of the Chamber Orchestra: Peyton Thomas and Gage Abell.

In the second half of the concert, Dr. Hawkins passed his conducting baton to Dr. Brittany Benningfield and joined the choirs as a guest Bass. As a combined effort, both the choirs and the Chamber Orchestra tackled Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”. Before the start of the mass, Dr. Benningfield took time to recognize the five graduating seniors of the group: Sopranos Meredith Davis and Anna Silva, Altos Nellie Heitzman and Kathy Ison, and Bass Timothy Baker. Each of the graduating members wore a boutonniére of a single red rose that brightened the sea of singers dressed in black and white. Joining the choirs were multiple Transylvania Choir Alumni: Soprano Rebecca Keith, Tenor Jamie Hagood, and Bass Alex Cesar. Along with Dr. Hawkins were seven other collaborating artists: Soprano Amanda Balltrip, Alto Katie London, Tenors Henry Huhtuhlag, Thabang Masango, and Brock Terry, and Basses Ryan Barr and Michael Pandolfo.

The piece featured six movements and four soloists, representing each voice part. The soloists were senior Soprano Meredith Davis, junior Alto Jessi Samuel, senior Tenor Brayden Bergman, and junior Bass Michael Maggard. Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” is a powerful proclamation of faith, and the choir delivered on that energy. As the soloists led the mass, Davis’ soprano voice floated throughout Haggin Auditorium with energy and grace. Each of the soloists displayed a devotion to the music and an impressive amount of control and precision in their voices. The Chamber Orchestra accompanied the voices as a gentle partner; neither group ever overpowered the other, and they complimented each other during the curves and dips that the mass often takes. Dr. Benningfield carefully conducted the group without missing a beat while leading over seventy musicians, demanding their attention with her deliberate movements and signature sparkly attire.

Photo courtesy of Sally Horowitz Photography: Angela Eaton overlooking the Choirs and Chamber Orchestra while accompanying the two groups on the organ.

The concert was a beautiful testament of the dedication that the music faculty and students have to the music they create. Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Benningfield conducted the groups with ease and emotion while their musicians gracefully followed along.

If you missed the concert (or want to hear it again), listen to the sixth and last movement of their “Coronation Mass” here!

Special thanks to Sally Horowitz Photography for allowing us to use her photographs from the concert.

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Emily Dent
I'm a sophomore at Transylvania, where I study Writing, Rhetoric, and Communications (WRC) and Spanish. I hope to someday pursue a career that allows me to write and be creative for a living. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, singing, and riding horses. In my free time you can usually find me napping, snacking, or bothering my friends.