Samford Choir's Joyful Sounds

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Midway through an East Coast tour, the Samford University A Cappella Choir gave a confident and often inspiring performance at its Kennedy Center debut on Sunday afternoon.

The 56-member choir from Birmingham, Ala., filed down the Terrace Theater aisles and paused to commence Roger Wagner's arrangement of "Alleluia: We Sing Our Praises to the Lord."

Singing with rich, energized voices, the young men and women moved onstage onto risers, their intonation and diction remaining clear and steady under conductor Timothy Paul Banks.

This ensemble generates joyful sounds and expression in settings ranging from psalms and Shaker tunes to spirituals and poems. But it was the sonorities and rhythms of an obscure piece based on the biblical text of Genesis that motivated the group to venture fully into multifaceted textures and dynamics.

Aaron Copland wrote only a handful of choral works. And yet his 1947 composition "In the Beginning" is one of the longest in the a cappella repertoire. The 17-minute piece features a mezzo-soprano solo role, sung impressively by the choir's president, Sarah Simmons. She and her fellow choristers produced a performance that was meditative, stirring and convincing.

Like any group still honing its craft, the choir does have an Achilles' heel. Medieval melodies rolled off the tongue more colorfully than the intricate polyphonic lines of a Bach motet. What the baroque singing lacked was the emotional quality that made the choir's second half so enjoyable. Perhaps the next time these students pass through town, they will have mastered it.

-- Grace Jean

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