Beethoven haunts finale of Baylor A Cappella season

Baylor's Acapella choir performing at St. Alban's Episcopal church. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer.

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

The Baylor A Cappella Choir travelled all over the state of Texas for their season tour last weekend, packed in a bus and stopping to sing in cities along the way. The choir went from Austin to Richardson to Bryan and finally brought it back home with a finale concert at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Waco on Monday night.

Singing to a Baylor and Waco audience, the choir represented over four centuries of choral music both sacred and secular, according to director Dr. Brad Holmes. In addition — though the choir is technically of the a cappella categorization — Holmes said some songs are accompanied by instruments like piano.

“It’s really a way to get us off campus and into our immediate community, to get the normal, common person this music,” Holmes said of the weekend-long tour. “We hope there’s something that everybody can appreciate.”

Holmes said one of the prominent themes of the program lies in the story of musical genius and composer Beethoven, focusing on his brilliance and resilience despite his worsened hearing as his life progressed. Holmes said at one point, Beethoven even contemplated suicide due to the loss of his source of passion — his music.

The lyrics of the song expressing his sorrow, “A Silence Haunts Me,” echo his Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter regarding Beethoven’s intended suicide that he wrote to his brothers years before his death. In it, Beethoven laments to God, referencing the Greek mythological tale of Prometheus and asking if he was being punished for “gifting humankind my fire.” The choir even incorporated a dramatic element to the performance, looking out past the audience as they sang, as if they themselves were lamenting. Throughout the song, the somber notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata push through, conveying the despair of his prayer.

In addition to the song’s power over the audience, choir member Cheyenne, Wyo., graduate student Thomas Quinlivan admitted to also feeling the impact of the song’s message on an emotional level, as it is one of his favorites from the selection.

“One thing that choir has that no other music ensemble has is text,” Quinlivan said. “We get to really engage with some beautiful poetry and beautiful words, and so there’s kind of another dimension of beauty to our music.”

As the piece came to a close after riding the highs of Beethoven’s hope and the lows of his torment, the piano accompaniment and voices faded, but the choir kept ‘singing.’ In silence their mouths moved, and Holmes continued to conduct as if to convince the audience and allow them a taste of Beethoven’s inevitable surrender to his deafness. When the act concluded, the audience broke out in booming applause.

With the complexity of the song came challenge, said Quinlivan. He said the time they spent mastering the song in rehearsals was necessary to present the song to the audience in the quality they did and that each member knowing their part was essential.

“If you don’t trust them, then you’re not going to come in confidently, and if you don’t come in confidently, then the next person won’t either,” Quinlivan said.

In addition to heavier songs like “A Silence Haunts Me,” the program lineup also contained lighter pieces like “Sweet Rivers” by Shawn Kirchner, one of Weatherford junior Katy Sanderford’s favorites of the selection. Sanderford said the song’s familiar and uplifting spirit reflects its message, that there is a life beyond our present world.

Sanderford said she feels the choir’s repertoire has grown as they repeatedly revisited the music leading up to the tour and that she looked forward to experiencing each performance of the program uniquely as they embarked on their Texas tour.

“We’ve worked really hard to prepare this, and I think Baylor is marked by a standard of excellence, so I think we’re really trying to show that in the school of music,” Sanderford said.