Churchill Singers to Perform “Songs of the Uncaged Spirit” Nov. 3
Imagination, optimism, adventure, and hope; these are the ideas that will be explored in the Churchill Singers’ concert “Songs of the Uncaged Spirit” on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury. Thematically, this choir concert will weave together the importance of human enterprise, nature’s purity, and fellowship through faith.
“At first glance,” explains Dr. Natasia Sexton, Associate Professor of Music and Churchill Singers conductor, “these may appear to be conflicting ideals, but through the arc of the concert the singers and I hope to communicate that human ingenuity is at the center of progress—however, it must be tempered by a sensitivity to the natural world and sustained by a faith in something bigger than ourselves.”
The concert draws its title from Contemporary American composer Paul Rardin’s composition “My Spirit Is Uncaged,” which features selected verses from Walt Whitman’s poem “A Song of Joys.” The driving pulse and jazz-inspired harmonies make it a favorite among singers. Tychirra Moreno, a sophomore from St. Louis, explains that “the stanzas of poetry are passed from the basses to the tenors and on up to the sopranos while the meter of the music keeps shifting. To me, this suggests that the composer is breaking some traditional boundaries.” Tychirra continues by suggesting that the music’s message is really this: “You can do whatever you like if you stop letting things hold you back.”
Another sophomore, Jamey Lemon from Hannibal, Missouri, also finds inspiration in Rardin’s setting of Whitman’s text. To Jamey, the message of this piece is central to what he hopes the audience gains from the overall concert. “To have a spirit that is uncaged is powerful because so many people limit themselves, but we shouldn’t be afraid to light up the world with our actions and words to make a meaningful difference” Jamey says.
While the energy of “My Spirit Is Uncaged” celebrates human ingenuity and enterprise, Joan Szymko’s setting of “The Peace of Wild Things” provides equipoise through lush harmonies, soaring melodies and the poetry of Kentucky native and naturalist Wendell Berry. Together, these two compositions anchor the concert thematically.
Erin Perry, a senior from Jefferson City, finds that lyrics and music are beautifully connected in Szymko’s setting of her favorite Wendell Berry poem so that “one can’t really separate them.” Erin, who is an active participant in Westminster’s spiritual life and campus environmental initiatives, goes on to say, “I find the themes of redirection and rejuvenation in Berry’s line ‘For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’”
Caroline McEwen, a junior from Fulton, emphasizes Erin’s view and hopes that “our audience gains a sense that nature is all around us and that we can feel better by connecting with it—it is good for our health and our souls.”
Woven between these two compositions are many well-known songs that complement and amplify the concert’s theme. Carly Simon’s 1989 hit “Let the River Run” opens the concert with a rush of hand drums, layered voices, and a command to “let all the dreamers wake the nation.”
For sheer beauty and whimsicality, members of the choir agree that Matthew D. Nielsen’s arrangement of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a favorite. Maryanne Korte, a freshman from Steelville, Mo explains, “I try to be enthusiastically optimistic, so the words ‘If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it’ resonate with me.”
The concert concludes with an acapella arrangement of the hymn “Abide With Me” followed by a setting of “What a Wonderful World.”
A freshman from Arnold, MO, Barrett Houska suggests, “Our concert will challenge guests to think about common things that people take for granted, but it should inspire us all to live more fully and imaginatively.” Fellow freshman Lydia Hale from Martinsbug, Mo agrees and adds, “Making this joyful music gives me chills. I hope that my family and friends will come and understand what this is all about.”