Each year on the Friday of One Big Weekend, the Hope College Music Department hosts the Homecoming Gala Concert, which serves as an opportunity to showcase each of Hope’s music ensembles through performances from each group. The small taste each of the five ensembles gave of their repertoire this semester has created much anticipation for the music that is to come. The Hope College Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Christopher Fashun, started the concert with the nine minute “Le Calife de Bagdad” overture composed by Fracois-Adrien Boieldieu.
The beginning of this piece is quite peaceful, and one might expect it to stay that way; however, it picks up dramatically in both pace and difficulty. Even so, the forty-student ensemble made it look easy and added their personal style and flair along the way. After the orchestra came a twosong performance from Chapel Choir, directed by Dr. Chris Dekker. Their first song, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” takes its lyrics from Psalm 23. Particularly striking in this piece is the interplay between the voices and organ as they play off each other. “Let My Love Be Heard” by Jake Runestad, Chapel Choir’s second piece, offered a dramatic shift in mood. Performed acapella, the piece starts with a collective hum which ebbs and flows like that of an ocean wave. The sound nearly diminishes to a mere buzz when the lyrics, adapted from a poem entitled “A Prayer” by Alfred Noyes, are sung: “Angels, where you soar up to God’s own light, take my own lost bird on your hearts tonight; and as grief once more mounts to heaven and sings, let my love be heard whispering in your wings.”
The highlight of this piece is the fugue section in which each voice part echoes and grows from a soft line sung by the altos into a fortissimo. It evokes the feeling of an angel drifting up into the clouds until it finally reaches its destination: Heaven. After the last crescendo of this part, the note bounced around Jack Miller Concert Hall for a few brief seconds before the choir sang the closing line that diminished into thin air. A few long seconds of silence passed before Dr. Dekker dropped his hands to signal the end, welcoming the interruption of the calm with a thunder of applause from the audience. Next in the program was “Cool Blues” performed by the Jazz Arts Collective. This performance offered a refreshing new sound to the already lively evening. Eight total students form this intimate group. The small size lends itself to flexibility in this case, as each member was given the opportunity to show off their own unique style and musicianship through an improvised solo. Dr. Jordan VanHemert directs this group, although he, too, offered a new take on the traditional role. Instead of simply directing the musicians, he had his own saxophone and led the students by showing them backing rhythms to play while one student played a solo.
The performance served as an invigorating lift to the more classical feel of the concert. The final ensemble, similar to the Jazz Arts Collective, also took the opportunity to showcase music with a spunky flair. Dr. Gabe Southard, conductor of the Wind Ensemble, announced when he took to the podium that the following music was very different than the lovely, gentle music that had preceded the performance. Southard’s ensemble played “Danse Infernale du Roi Kastchei” from The Firebird Suite (1919) composed by Igor Stravinsky and arranged by Fennell. Dr. Southard explained that this piece comes from the part of the ballet where the Firebird meets a magical ogre, so the music has a quirky quality characterized by an octatonic system with difficult chromatic scales.
When the last song was finished and the lights in the house returned to full, there was an immediate buzz among the audience. People rose reluctantly out of their seats, wishing the brief concert could have been longer. Students met with family and friends in the lobby, hugs and laughs were shared and congratulations exchanged. The air was light and hopeful, and the community was renewed by the shared faith of everyone in the building: the faith in the future of music.