Chamber Singers sing of freedom

by Ritika Nandkeolyar | 5/7/98 5:00am

With a program of music spanning centuries and continents the Chamber Singers' Spring term "Voices of Freedom" concert highlights music originally written as a protest against oppression.

"In singing these pieces, we can speak for their composers," said Karen Miller '00, the co-president of the 27-member ensemble.

The concert begins with William Byrd's "Mass in Four Voices." Byrd, an English composer, was a devout catholic living in a time -- Elizabethan England -- when it was illegal to write a Catholic mass.

Members of the World Music Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Hafiz Shabazz, will join the choir to perform several African and African-American pieces. One of these pieces will be "Siyahamba," which is occasionally performed by the Cords.

The African section also includes "Freedom Song," a collection of music from Apartheid-era South Africa and African-American spirituals sung as a response to slavery.

"It is amazing that music written as an expression of oppression is so uplifting and jubilant," said Charles Houmard, the choir's conductor. "These songs embodied a hope -- hope for freedom."

Three pieces by American composer William Billings showcase the evolution of his political ideas. Billings, originally a royalist, later wrote "Chester," which became the patriot's call to arms. The concert will also feature "Corsica," an abolitionist piece by Billings.

The Billings trio will be conducted by Steven Fox '00, who is also the director of the Modern Madrigal Singers.

The program also includes the "Gloria" from Paul Basler's African mass, the "Missa Kenya." The mass will feature two tenor solos by Fox and graduate student Joshua Clapper.

"Psalm 114," by Argentinean Robert Camaano, written when his country was under a military dictatorship, is also part of the concert.

Other highlights include pieces composed by the renowned Spanish cellist Pablo Casals featuring a guest soloist Music Professor Erma Gattie. Casals wrote choral works in his native Catalan despite Franco's efforts during his dictatorship to suppress that language.

Many of the pieces in the program were performed in Spain during the choir's Spring break tour. "Voices of Freedom" is tonight at 8 p.m. in Rollins Chapel.