Love unites choirs

Daniel Kim

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On Saturday, April 25 in the Chism Recital Hall, the Whitman College Department of Music will present the Whitman Chorale and Chamber Singers under the direction of Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Riikka Pietilainen-Caffrey. 

The Chorale and Chamber Singers spent all semester practicing and rehearsing for the Department of Music’s annual Spring Concert. The theme this year is love of all kinds: young, romantic love, old love, tragic love, love that cannot be contained and how love changes as life moves forward.

“We’re really going in a full circle on human life and seeing what love really means … If you say love, people expect that it’s going to be happy songs, but love does not have to be happy. So we’ve kind of traveled, during the course of the semester, through an emotional journey,” said Pietilainen-Caffrey.

The musical compositions the students have been practicing were created by some of the most well-known classical- and romantic-era composers in history, like Mozart, Monteverdi and Brahms, all of whom wrote many pieces about love and loss. However, this year also features a composition by Whitman’s Adjunct Instructor of Piano Kristin Vining.

“I had heard some of her music and wanted her to write us a piece for the concert,” said Pietilainen-Caffrey.

Vining was very excited to compose a piece for Chamber Singers and was especially motivated to make the Spring Concert an enjoyable experience. 

“I love to compose, and I think that the work goes quickly when you have inspiring text and when you’re inspired to write for certain people,” said Vining.

The piece she created integrates piano, played by Vining, and cello, played by Adjunct Instructor of Cello and Bass Sally Singer, both of whom will accompany the choir. The text is fragments of Sappho poetry, which sometimes consists of only short phrases with really strong images.

“As far as composing goes, I tried to find out what that image or strong emotion was and then reflect that musically,” said Vining.

This is the first Spring Concert that Pietilainen-Caffrey is directing since the departure of former Visiting Professor Jeremy Mims last May. Although the two directors have different instruction styles, their approach for setting the concert was to build great expectations for the performance. 

“She’s brought a new energy to the choir, and I wouldn’t say a better energy, but just a different energy,” said senior Chorale and Chamber singer Lily Gibbs. “I loved Dr. Mims, but I also really appreciate what Dr. Caffrey brings. I think she brings energy and enthusiasm and commitment beyond belief to the choir. I think most students have responded to it and enjoyed her.”

Like in many performance productions, there were hurdles that the singers needed to overcome. One such difficulty for this spring concert was the language in which the song was written and would require the singers to perfecting the lyrics in its foreign language.

“We’re doing a Finnish piece that Dr. Vining composed, and it’s interesting because it has a very different sound to it then typical Western style of music. Getting the right sound and tone for the music as well as the memorization of another language was the most challenging part of the preparations,” said Gibbs.

The Whitman College Chorale and Chamber can offer students a unique experiences with diverse people while trying a new activity. Singing can expose students to new things, allowing them to grow and learn together through this concert.

“The theme is different and the group is always changing … Next year is a different group. Even if there are 100 singers, it’s a different feeling with different people, always keeping in mind what works for the current group,” said Pietilainen-Caffrey.

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