Chorale performs fall concert, director reflects on experience
For almost 50 years, the Notre Dame Chorale has performed some of the greatest choral works from the Renaissance to the present. On November 5th, Chorale made a grand comeback from their pandemic-induced hiatus with a concert in the Leighton Concert Hall of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Chorale, Notre Dame’s official concert choir, sings a concert each semester and performs Handel’s Messiah with a baroque orchestra each December. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, however, the choir was unable to perform indoors in any capacity last year and hardly able to rehearse. In an interview with the Rover, Chorale director Alexander Blachly said, “We had to be outdoors, we were on the upper concourse of the stadium… It was very windy, it was cold, it was wet, but mostly it was noisy.”
Speaking on the difficulties posed by last year’s pandemic, Blachly pointed out that more than just uncomfortable temperatures, the rehearsal conditions were a serious detriment to the functionality of the choir. “The whole point of the music is that you can only hear it when it’s really quiet, and if it never gets quiet, you never get to hear the whole point of the music. So it’s discouraging, it’s a morale killer,” he said.
Despite the restrictions imposed on the choir, Chorale was able to bounce back in full force. From Franz Schubert’s Prometheus to George Friedrich Handel’s Worthy is the Lamb, the choir sang the concert with remarkable mastery and energy. Given the exceptional performance on November 5, one would never know that only a few months ago Chorale was relegated to the upper concourse of the stadium, competing with the band and construction workers for airwaves.
After attending the concert, freshman vocal performance major Madeline Murphy shared her thoughts with the Rover regarding the technicality of the performance: “Having unified diction in German pieces is nearly impossible; it was evident that Chorale dedicated much time to perfecting this.”
Blachly has been continually impressed by not only the musicianship of the singers but also their dedication: “Notre Dame students are great to work with because they are like your own kids. They’re friendly, they’re smart, and they are interested in what they’re doing … There’s this willingness to participate, there’s a willingness to do what you’re asked to do.”
Chorale has made great strides since Blachly first arrived in 1993, growing significantly in size to an ensemble of 70 voices from across the academic disciplines.
Along with numbers, the performance ability of the choristers has also increased greatly. “I think the talent level has gone up,” remarked Blachly. “So when I first got here … I had some repertoires selected for [Chorale] to do, and … they didn’t have the musical skills to do it. And that’s no longer true, I can give them anything now, and they can handle it.”
Blachly attributes this great development of Chorale to the leadership and talent of the upperclassmen. “In a university, you have graduation, so people leave… and we have new incoming students, and you have a kind of memory built up. The ones that have been in it for a while become the leaders. We just have a really good leadership now on that level, so the ones coming in are immediately raised up to a higher level, just by being around the others.”
This view is mirrored among the students. Freshman soprano Abigail Chittle noted the impact that those who have been in Chorale longer have had on her participation in the choir. “The upperclassmen are so good at what they do,” she said. “They’re able to sing in unison, and they all are able to learn their parts and know their parts so solidly. I sit next to a senior, and it’s so helpful. She knows the music, [which] kind of raises you up.”
It was apparent to the audience how much camaraderie exists within Chorale and how very exciting it was to be performing again after a long, strenuous year. In a statement to the Rover, senior Austin Rose noted the chemistry of the choir: “The music they performed requires a chorus to have a great awareness of both the repertoire and their peers, both of which I thought they expressed extremely well; as a member of the Glee Club, I know that the polyphonic pieces they performed are difficult to coordinate and sing properly, and they did an exquisite job!”
Blachly echoed this sentiment, telling the Rover that, “People are just so happy to be getting back to any kind of normal activity. There’s just a feeling of deprivation going away. It’s an appreciation of the fact that we can get back to what we really like to do.”
A full recording of the concert is available on Chorale’s Facebook page. Chorale will perform Handel’s Messiah in the Leighton Concert Hall in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center on December 2-3.
Elizabeth Hale is a freshman studying political science. She loves reading, baking, and taking care of houseplants. If you ever want to talk about sourdough, philodendron, or the Great British Baking Show, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.