Jacobs ensembles collaborate for symphony performance

Megan Wilhelm, second-year master's student in the Jacobs School of Music, practices her solo during rehearsal for "Vaughan Williams: 'A Sea Symphony.'" The oratorio Chorus and Concert Orchestra will perform the piece at 8 p.m. today in the Musical Arts Center.

Megan Wilhelm, second-year master’s student in the Jacobs School of Music, practices her solo during rehearsal for “Vaughan Williams: ‘A Sea Symphony.'” The oratorio Chorus and Concert Orchestra will perform the piece at 8 p.m. today in the Musical Arts Center.

By Brooke McAfee

Rows of almost 200 singers singing in unison, a full orchestra and two soloists will perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “A Sea Symphony (Symphony No. 1)” during today’s concert at the Musical Arts Center.

The Oratorio Chorus and the Concert Orchestra will perform at 8 p.m. with baritone soloist Connor Lidell and soprano soloist Megan Wilhelm.

Betsy Burleigh, the chair of the Jacobs School of Music’s choral conducting department, will conduct the performance.

“It’s a great piece of music in that it’s both musically beautiful, and there’s so much to the text,” Burleigh said. “It’s an inspiring piece to be a part of, and I think it is an easy piece for the singers and the players to relate to.”

The Oratorio Chorus is composed of 191 musicians from three different choirs, including the University Singers, University Chorale and NOTUS, while the Concert Orchestra is composed of 79 musicians.

Having so many people work together in one setting builds a sense of community, Burleigh said.

“A Sea Symphony” is not played often, and this is the first performance of the piece at IU since 1962.

The soloists have taken on parts that would often be given to faculty members or outside professionals at other universities, Burleigh said.

“It’s been great working with them,” Burleigh said. “This is not an easy piece to sing. It’s a very physical piece to sing, and it’s not the sort of thing that any voice can do.”

The symphony is based off of poems from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Burleigh said Vaughan Williams’ music brings the poetry to life in each movement.

The whole piece is a metaphor, Burleigh said, and it addresses topics such as the unity of the human race, our place in the universe and an exuberant sense of the present time.

“The sea is either a backdrop for these metaphors, or the sea itself can be a metaphor for so many of these ideas, this vast, fathomless thing that is wonderful and frightening and immense — all these things that the ocean is,” Burleigh said.

Lidell, a first year master’s student, said the act of putting the symphony together has been an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Vaughan William’s work is romantic and otherworldly, Lidell said.

His solo part is like a character in a show that represents the captain of a ship and is a metaphor for moving forward in life and taking on new challenges, Lidell said.

Lidell said it is different than his usual performances.

“I’ve done a lot of character roles and a lot of humorous roles, but now I get a chance to explore true musicality,” Lidell said.

The symphony is an hour and 20 minutes of relentless music, Lidell said, and although he gets plenty of breaks, he must keep his composure and musicality throughout the piece.

Wilhelm, a second year master’s student, said she was not familiar with the symphony before she started preparing for the concert, and she thinks the music is incredible.

Wilhelm said she often sings pieces that are sad and depressing, but “A Sea Symphony” is uplifting.

The symphony is a tribute to all things about the sea, Wilhelm said.

“I think it will have a lasting impression on the audience,” Wilhelm said.

© Indiana Daily Student 2015

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