Handel Society, town-gown ensemble, to perform tomorrow

by Rebecca Asoulin | 11/18/13 1:35pm

The Handel Society of Dartmouth College, America’s first “town-gown” choral ensemble, will perform Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria” and two other 20th century compositions tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.

Members of the Handel Society spoke passionately about the music and the inter-generational model of town-gown ensembles that the group is based on.

Asian and Middle Eastern studies professor Kenneth Bauer said he joined to reintroduce music into his life at the College and discovered a unique dynamic.

“The students are incredibly talented and have beautiful voices,” Bauer said. “The community leaders are experienced and dedicated. It’s the only place on campus where I’ve seen the community and students so seamlessly come together to do something in common, with passion.”

The 100-member chorus is composed of undergraduates, graduates, faculty members and community members.

Since 2004, Robert Duff has served as the artistic director and conductor of the Handel Society. The focus of Tuesday night’s concert and this past term is on 20th century music. In addition to “Gloria,” the Handel Society will perform Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” and Pulitzer and Grammy-winning American composer Jennifer Higdon’s 2007 work, “Deep in the Night.”

Jonathan May ’14 said he was drawn to the group because of the diverse repertoire Duff has the chorus work with. “What’s really special to me is that you can’t put a group of singers together and just call it the Handel Society,” May said. “Our lives are connected. We’re not just individuals put together. We’re singing together and listening to each other all the time. Rebekah Schweitzer, a transfer student from Oberlin College, echoes this sentiment. Schweitzer was a member of the group for two years while she was a student at Hanover High School and when she returned to Hanover this fall, the first person she talked to was Duff.

“It’s just so much fun and it’s a workout,” Schweitzer said. “It’s really a musical workout. I feel tired at the end of rehearsals because I’ve been working hard and thinking hard.

A full professional orchestra and soprano Colleen Daly will join the Handel Society on stage tomorrow night. Daly’s first collaboration with the Handel Society was a May 2012 performance of Brahms’ “Requiem.”

“For the soloists, I try to encourage young and emerging soloists,” Duff said. “I like to develop professional music relationships that can continue to grow and blossom. Daly’s voice type was appropriate for the role and she has a glorious instrument and is doing wonderful things professionally.”

Before his work at the College, Duff served on the faculties of Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University and Mount St. Mary’s College and as the music director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where he directed the music programs for nearly 300 parishes.

“I had a lot of experience not only in terms of inter-generational, but also in terms of inter-cultural and inter-lingual models of music making,” Duff said. The position at Dartmouth was an opportunity to realize the major choral orchestral repertoire and to do so in an environment that is stimulating.”

Contact with all parts of the community makes the experience rewarding for Schweitzer

“It gives the students the chance to get outside of their student bubbles,” Shweitzer said. “The life of a late teen early 20-year-old can be kind of limited and you can step out of that and deal with adult and talk about different things which can be very helpful.”

Members believe that the group’s shared passion and genuine curiosity for music reflects itself in their work.

“We’re one of a handful of town-gown groups in the country,” Duff said. “The idea of students and teachers learning from each other within a rehearsal space where they are sitting side by side and often times the students are teaching the faculty rather than the other way around, creates quite a vibrant energy in the room.”