“Oh I want to go back to the old days … those good old days on The Hill”
I have a lot of fond memories of my college days at Cornell University, but some of the greatest ones I have are those that involve singing.
On a whim, and having never sung in a choral group in high school, I auditioned for, and was accepted into, Cornell’s men’s choir, the Cornell University Glee Club. It was a choir of over 50 men from all walks of life, and we sang the works of the masters. Verdi, Brahms, Mozart … we sang music that, for lack of better idioms, would make angels cry tears of joy.
We sang pieces with and without piano accompaniment, sometimes with a chamber orchestra and on occasion with a full orchestra like the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Often times we collaborated with our sister group, the Cornell University Chorus.
Recently, the Cornell University Chorus embarked on a tour of California. From March 28th to April 4th, the women made their way up the coast starting in Orange County and ending in Redwood City. Their second California performance, which I attended, took place in Murphy Hall at Loyola Marymount University.
Though the director of the chorus, Robert Isaacs, was not the director that conducted while I was in school, I was glad to hear that the standards of musical excellence had not diminished one iota. In fact, the chorus blended extraordinarily well and there was nary a moment when any chord was out of tune.
Do you know what an overtone is? In college, I was obsessed with them. An overtone is a musical tone that is part of the harmonic series above the fundamental note and may be heard with it. When it comes to singing, in a venue with complimenting acoustics, when a chord is hit perfectly, and the vowels are blended seamlessly, an overtone can seem louder than the voices that are actually singing.
I can remember late night rehearsals in Sage Chapel with my acappella group, The Hangovers (a subset of the Glee Club), preparing for major concerts. In order to cool tensions at 1 or 2 in the morning, we would sing a song, whether it was Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” or our arrangement of the popular Italian song “Softly, As I Leave You” which was made famous by Frank Sinatra, focusing on our blend and tuning.
When you can hear the overtones while you are singing, it’s like an out of body experience. To hear voices that aren’t in the room singing with you … it’s practically supernatural. Though I never mentioned it to my brothers in song, I always thought to myself that it was more than just physics … it was like voices from the heavens were singing along.
I had several of those moments while listening to the Chorus perform that evening. Clearly, Professor Isaacs had trained his voices well. But the venue … Murphy Hall … my god, that room had some beautiful acoustics. Though the Instagram video clips don’t do the chorus, or the venue, any justice, if you listen hard enough, I’m pretty sure you can pick out a few overtones in the first 15 second clip.
A highlight for me was the chorus singing Conte’s “Hosanna”. I was always smitten with that piece since the first time I heard it my freshman year. I’m glad it is a standard of their repertoire. It’s always nice to be wooed with the familiar.
As is also typical, the a cappella subset of the Chorus, After Eight, performed a couple selections. What was atypical, however, was that they opened their set with a subset of their subset, a quartet, covering Beyonce’s “End of Time”. THAT was impressive.
The Chorus closed the evening with a few Cornell songs, and yes, I sang along from the audience. I’m just glad I remembered the words and my parts. LOL.
Brava, Chorus. Go, Big Red!