A Word of Farewell

“Word over all, beautiful as the sky!” wrote Walt Whitman in “Reconciliation,” a poem that appeared in his magnum opus Leaves of Grass.

This verse of “Reconciliation” leant its lyrics as a title for the 2012 spring concert of the Colgate Choral Ensembles. The Women’s Ensemble and Concert Choir per-formed Word over all… on Sunday in Memorial Chapel. This concert was specially celebrated as the last that Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral and Vocal Activities James Niblock would conduct as director of the two choral ensembles, after directing the groups for seven years.

The program that paid a fond farewell to its director was com-prised of songs not of ending, but renewal. Songs about springtime, harvest and deliverance joined the Concert Choir’s centerpiece, a truly stunning performance of four Civil War poems by Walt Whitman set to song that gave voice to a nation’s regeneration in the face of unprecedented destruction.

Women’s Ensemble led off the concert with two Latin vespers de-votionals. “Nigra Sum” began with chilly harmonies fit for a sunset devotional in winter but the harmonies grew softer and lusher as the lyrics shifted to describing the bourgeoning flowers of “tempus puta-tionis” – the time of pruning. “Tota pulchra es” – you are all beauti-ful – was chanted in repetition by the ensemble as this devotional to Mary bedecked the mother of Jesus in diverse harmonies.

Women’s Ensemble followed the devotionals with some secular songs. Two numbers by Camille Saint-Sa?ns paired a lament dedi-cated to women in wartime with a lively song of the “chevalier print-emps” – princely springtime. The Women’s Ensemble concluded with a rustic setting of Robert Frost’s poem “A Girl’s Garden,” which warned against planting a crop that is so varied that it becomes a “mis-cellany.” A departing director appeared to be imparting the wisdom of honing one’s focus.

The Concert Choir’s set began with its astonishing performance of Walt Whitman poetry set to song in Jeffrey Van’s “A Procession Wind-ing Around Me.” From “By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame” that went “sol-emn and sweet and slow” to the apocalyptic “Beat! Beat! Drums!” to the hushed vigil of “Look Down Fair Moon” and then on to “Rec-onciliation” with its atonement and ultimate transcendence, it was a magisterial performance of a challenging piece. Kenneth Mey-er, an expert guitarist and instruc-tor at Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music, accompanied the choir for this performance. Meyer played with distinctive rhythmic nuance as he strummed, drummed, plinked and plucked across the strings, body and bridge of his instrument.

The Concert Choir also con-tributed “Le Pont Mirabeau,” a song that the choir fell in love with after hearing the men’s vocal ensemble Cantus perform it here at Colgate in February. They then concluded their set with “Feller from Fortune,” a hearty sailor’s song full of rollicking “diddledum dees” that was the choir’s “antidote” in the difficult practices for “A Procession Winding Around Me.”

Woman’s Ensemble joined the Concert Choir for the final num-ber. Peter Browne’s “Hymn-Anthem on St. Columba,” a devotion to a “good shepherd,” was the last song that Director Niblock directed for the Colgate Choral Ensembles.

Also leaving the choir were seniors Allison Gramolini, Amber Har-ding, Mike Knerr, Sarah Lemon, Yasmin Mannan, Meg Peavey, Axel Spaeh and Paul Weeks.

“It was a poignant, heartfelt experience,” said Mannan. “It taught me a lot about the emotion of a piece making it more wonderful to hear. When you feel, they feel.”

It was a concert where words of parting made room for emotion.

Contact Thomas Wiley at [email protected].