The following story was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance April 7, 2012. It is reprinted with permission.
By Liz Barry
For the umpteenth time, Randolph College music professor Randy Speer raises his conductor’s wand for another crack at a difficult section of Mozart’s “Solemn Vespers.”
Since January, the student Chorale has been perfecting every note, every measure, of this 68-page composition. On Easter, they will perform the piece at Carnegie Hall’s premier stage, Stern Hall – marking a historic moment for Randolph College.
“The music itself is very challenging,” said Speer. “To be able to rise to the occasion and then be able to do it in Carnegie Hall is really a pinnacle experience.”
During a recent 90-minute rehearsal, Speer drilled Chorale’s 21 students in the nuances of Mozart. Every breath must be perfectly timed. Every transition, flawless.
For the final go, Speer brings them all together – soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
Their voices rise to the rafters of campus chapel. When the section ends, Speer drops his wand and grins.
“Now that was cool. Did you feel the energy?”
Last year, Speer received an unexpected offer. He was invited to conduct at Carnegie Hall for a concert series put on by MidAmerica Productions, a company that stages concerts inNew Yorkand international venues.
“This experience is something above and beyond anything I’ve ever imagined being able to do,” he said.
As a guest conductor, Speer could choose to perform withRandolphsingers or work with an outside group. He chose both.
Chorale will join forces with a high school choir fromTucson and the New England Symphonic Ensemble. They will have three days to rehearse as a group before taking the stage.
Randolph president John Klein is travelling to New York City for the performance, along with board members, alumni and donors.
As the concert approached, nerves ran high amongRandolph’s singers.
“It’s intimidating to say the least… It’s Carnegie Hall,” said freshman Robert Santmyer.
“I have this knot in my stomach,” said junior Katherine Turner, who is organizing the travel plans and other logistics.
Mozart’s “Vesperae Solennes de Confessore” (Solemn Vespers) is a complex piece known for its sublime soprano solos.
“He wrote this piece while he was young and working inSalzburg. He didn’t like his job but that didn’t stop him from writing glorious music,” Speer said.
In the piece, Mozart draws fromSalzburg’s musical heritage by incorporating three trombone parts into the choir.
“It really does add a unique flavor to the sound of the choir,” he said.
Speer has been teaching music atRandolphfor 12 years, and says working at the college “feels like home.” He also conducts the choir at Court Street United Methodist Church and will miss his first Easter there in years on account of Carnegie Hall.
Chorale is a descendent of the glee club, a mainstay at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College before the student-run singing group was formalized into an academic program.
Students now take Chorale as a credited class. Since the college went co-ed in 2007, the choir is working toward a coveted “balanced” ratio of two females for every one male.
“It takes a while to have the critical mass of guys who can sing and are comfortable doing so, even if they are in the minority,” Speer said.
For now, they make due with 16 women and 5 men.
Chorale usually performs four concerts per year. Each spring, they go on tour, undertake a major collaboration or commission a new work.
After Carnegie Hall, they will return to Lynchburg for a repeat performance April 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Houston Memorial Chapel.
The Chorale will perform Mozart’s “Solemn Vespers” for Randolph College’s April 15 spring concert at 7:30 P.M. in the Houston Memorial Chapel.
Randall Thompson's "The Place of the Blest" will be performed. The Chorale will be joined by Randolph’s Chamber Orchestra, the Sweet Briar College Concert Choir, Court Street United Methodist Chancel Choir and the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra. Soloists include Nora Moore (soprano), Tara Bouknight (mezzo-soprano), Chris Swanson (tenor) and Wayne Kompelien (baritone).