Based on a collection of medieval poems, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is a work which provides a perfect collaborative opportunity for arts organizations which provide different voices and elements to the production.
Sometimes performed with choreography (as was the case when Fort Wayne Ballet and Heartland Sings presented the piece eight years ago), this month the focus will be on the orchestration and vocal complexities.
The Phil Chorus is ready
Bringing Carmina Burana to life is the Fort Wayne Philharmonic along with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus and the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir along with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Chorus. The soloists for the production are Toni Marie Palmertree, Patrick Muehleise, and Christian Bowers.
For Benjamin Rivera, director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus, introducing the choir of 100 to the piece is unnecessary. Having performed it fairly recently, and with most in the chorus already very familiar with it, rehearsals didn’t begin until mid-January.
Rivara thinks there are a variety of reasons that Orff’s piece continues to be so popular.
“It ticks a lot of boxes,” Rivera said. “It’s got memorable melodies, gentle moments, bombast, the sublime, and the ridiculous. Beyond that musical variety, there are the texts — love poetry, some of it less than subtle, drinking monks, the wheel of fortune. Most people can relate to, or at least find interest in, some of the subject matter.”
children’s choir Tackles tough topics
Those familiar with the subject matter at the heart of Carmina Burana — which include drinking and gambling, gluttony and lust — know that there are some very adult subjects being tackled. For the members of the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir performing in the show, most of whom are middle school age, those subjects might be a bit beyond their understanding and experience.
“True,” said Jonathan Busarow, executive artistic director for Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. “Thankfully, all of our part is in Latin, and most of the evocative texts are not in our part. The part that the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir will sing was originally written for a ‘Ragazzi,’ or boy choir. We will have both boys and girls singing, but it’s helpful to know the intent was for a group of rowdy young lads.”
The adult material also lends itself to their growth as singers and musicians, perfect for Busarow’s role as both conductor and music educator for the young artists.
“We focus on the music notation first,” he said. “This piece of music is great for our students to sing using solfege, the music reading system we use, and I spend a lot of time using different syllables so that we can build their music reading skills.
“We don’t spend a lot of time, in this case, discussing the context of the movements they sing. The musical education they are receiving from working on a large-scale performance with our Fort Wayne Philharmonic is an important part of their education.”
Adult material is not altogether new for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. Their training choir performed at the courthouse performance during Violins of Hope, and last year Busarow’s students were part of another special performance.
“Last season, our students sang in John Adams’ ‘On the Transmigration of Souls’ which was written in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks,” he said. “It was incredible to see how they were able to connect to an event that was from before their lifetime and had only read about in history books. I could see many parallels in my own musical connections when this year we started the fall with Violins of Hope. Once again, we connected with a once-in-a-lifetime performance opportunity and many students went to other exhibits and events connected to the Violins of Hope project.”
The opportunity to Collaborate
The opportunity to collaborate with the large arts organizations and seasoned performers is part of what the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir gets to experience throughout the year. Their annual contributions to the Fort Wayne Ballet production of The Nutcracker as well as performing with the ballet and Philharmonic later this month in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, puts them in contact with big league talent, something Busarow prepares them for in advance of combined rehearsals.
While a large scale production of Carmina Burana is in itself a special event, for members of the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir it’s just another part of their training.
“The children’s choir has been preparing our portion of the score on our own, so it is always exciting when the parts all start to come together,” Busarow said. “Dr. Rivera and I will put the children’s choir and adult chorus together one time before we rehearse with the orchestra. With performances like this, there is always a variable that conductors treat the work differently. So, we have to have the singers ready for whatever [Philharmonic music director] Andrew Constantine wants to do.
“Our Philharmonic is a true gem in the community, and perhaps the biggest opportunity for our students is realizing that they are filling a role as a professional musician on the stage.”
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