Traditional Malay dance, bird song animates choir performance

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Willamette Chamber Choir
    The Willamette Chamber Choir under the direction of Wallace Long, director of choral activities at Willamette University, performs at the American Choral Directors Association Northwest Regional Convention.
  • Willamette Chamber Choir
    The Willamette Chamber Choir under the direction of Wallace Long, director of choral activities at Willamette University, performs at the American Choral Directors Association Northwest Regional Convention.

Willamette Chamber Choir performed at the American Choral Directors Association Northwest Regional Convention for 18th time in the 35-year tenure of Wallace Long, director of choral activities.

Willamette’s Chamber Choir clapped, stomped and danced in a recent performance that brought the audience to its feet in appreciation.

Last month, choir members sang “Hentakan Jiwa (The Beat of the Soul)” by Ken Steven — a song that requires students to sing in Malaysian and do some complicated footwork — at the Northwest Regional American Choral Directors conference, where only the strongest choirs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska perform.

Choirs must submit recordings of their best piece from each of the last three years to qualify for the conference, which was held in Portland this year. Choral Director Wallace Long, who has led Willamette students 18 times at the conference over the past 35 years, says choirs have to “prove the quality of their work to the choosing committee, year after year.” Willamette last attended the conference in 2014.

This year, the Chamber Choir sang a variety of songs — from the Renaissance-era to contemporary pieces — so the audience could experience a broad spectrum of music within the 25-minute time limit. The audience also gave the Chamber Choir positive feedback for the French song “Les Chants des Oyeaux,” by Clement Janequin, during which the choir split into four separate sections, moved to different areas within the church and mimicked different birds and their calls.

Maura Tomassetti ’19, a third-year choir member, felt excited to sing but the pressure was on — she says the choir knew the audience was full of trained choral directors who were well-acquainted with the music.

She says, “We knew they would be critiquing our performance but also how well we followed Dr. Long’s direction.”

Half of the women’s choral section graduated last year, but the influx of new students didn’t negatively impact the performance. In fact, the change provided a chance for experienced choir members like Tomassetti help newcomers feel comfortable with the material.

Eamon Gover ’21, one of the first-year choir members, had to get used to something else — playing classical music.

At the conference, he played saxophone for the mostly instrumental song “Evening Prayer” by Ola Gjello. He hadn’t played — let alone performed — a classical piece in a long time. He wanted to prove to himself he could execute the song as flawlessly as possible at the conference, so when he played the last chord, he felt bittersweet. 

“You know that feeling when you complete a really big jigsaw puzzle and you just stare at it for a long time?” he says. “That’s how it felt after playing the final note on ‘Evening Prayer’ for the last time. The journey was complete and I could finally look back on the entire adventure.”

Hear the choir perform in a spring concert at 7 p.m. April 29 in Hudson Hall. 

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