All Saints concerts

Chicago Chorale at Monastery of the Holy Cross Yesterday Chorale completed it's All Saints series, with a concert at Lake Forest College, as a part of the college's Lyrica series. Our other performance was the previous Sunday, November 1, at Monastery of the Holy Cross, in Bridgeport. The music was identical, but the concerts differed greatly one from the other, primarily because of differences in the venues.

Holy Cross inspires whispering, introspection, awe, and very slow tempos-- the reverberant acoustic causes harmonies to become confused and trip over themselves, if they succeed one another too quickly. Spoken communication with the audience is nearly impossible; one depends on the music itself, and the program notes, to communicate with the listeners. The vaulted ceiling, the altar, the stained glass (which shone beautifully in the natural light of a Sunday afternoon), and the monks themselves, present in their brown robes, all lent a powerful and unalterable character to our performance.

Lake Forest's chapel, on the other hand, is a warm, cozy space with comfortable chairs, lots of wood, and a clear, bright acoustic-- speaking is easy, and talking about the music with the audience feels as natural as sitting in a living room, chatting. The clarity of the acousitc made communication amongst the choir members easier, than in the Monastery-- they really had no problems hearing one another across and through the group. This sort of acoustic emboldens the singers-- but also sets a higher bar for them: the audience misses nothing. A consonant out of place, a scooped pitch, a mispronounced word-- the space is merciless. So the singers are somewhat more careful, somewhat more on edge, about the details, and less blown away by the total effect of what they are doing.

Both are wonderful venues; both were important partners in producing good concerts. I fear that we choral musicians sometimes fail to understand the importance of venue-- especially of the acoustics, but also of the overall ambiance of the space. In addition to giving the listeners' eyes something to rest on, creating a mood even before the music begins, venue is our amplifier, it shapes and directs our sound, is in many respects our voice.

Our Christmas concerts will be in two other venues-- Hyde Park Union Church, rich in wooden surfaces and museum-quality stained glass; and Church of the Holy Family, a historical and architectural monument which has graced Chicago's South Side since from before THE FIRE. Preparing for these many venues keeps us on our musical toes; it also greatly enriches our musical experience.

Bruce Tammen

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