BROOKVILLE — It was called “What Is Thy Joy” and described as “chamber music for four voices by Bach, Barber and Britten.” However, words could not really describe the experience of those attending Sunday afternoon’s performance.
Outstanding, moving, exhilarating, amazing are just a few words that come to mind.
Four young vocalists – Brookville native Sean Taylor, son of David Taylor, and Diane Walters, Kim Leeds and Michael Jones – showed off their vocal talent during the two-hour program. Taylor sings bass, Walters is a soprano, Leeds is a mezzo-soprano and Jones is a tenor. Without any musical instruments or recordings, they sang a variety of songs from long ago. The theme running throughout was joy or at times the lack of joy. According to the program, “What Is Thy Joy?” seeks to explore what is joy, what brings us joy and when joy is absent.
Among the songs chosen to explore the theme was Lobet den Herrn (Psalm 117 translated by Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Hampshire folk song collected by G.B. Gardiner (1852-1910), a Navajo prayer translated by Jerome K. Rothenberg (b.1931), All Saints, Second Vespers, Antiphon to the Magnificat; cf. Apocalypse 7:9, a song entitled Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder! by Charles d’Orleans (1394-1465) and several more, including a Mass Ordinary (Kyrie from Mass for 4 Voices).
While the songs were not the ones one hears on the radio, the music still held the audience spellbound as they listened to this skilled foursome. At times their voices would begin low and build as if the joy they felt could not be contained. At other times the song would be slow, deeper, almost sad. Then there were the lighthearted songs when their voices would rise and fall, quicken and then slow before beginning the ride once more. These were joyful sounds that gave a sense of playfulness.
The last song was a group effort, including the audience. The Brookville Area High School Concert Choir, directed by Deana Owens, participated by helping the audience to sing its part of Love Is Love Is Loves Is Love, complied by Abbie Betinis (b. 1980), Liber Usualis.
For many the two-hour free concert was over much to quickly. But with the last tones fading, those attending were able to meet the members of Alium Spiritum, to find out more about each vocalist and to express the joy they felt listening to this chamber ensemble.
Taylor is assistant professor of voice and director of choral studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He also serves on the summer faculty of Berkshire Choral International, which has him teaching classes, giving recitals and leading sectionals in Massachusetts, Oregon and California. He is a specialist in professional ensemble singing and sings this season with the Dallas Choral Festival, Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, Charleston’s Taylor Festival Choir, The Oregon Bach Festival and the Choir of Cincinnati’s St. Rose Church
Walters is also voice faculty with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is a specialist in collaborative music and has sung with ensembles across the United States and Europe, including The Grammy award-winning ensemble, The Crossing, Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, Charleston’s Taylor Festival Choir, Weimar Bach Cantata Academy, Chorosynthesis, Oregon Bach Festival, Schola Cincinnati, Dallas Choral Festival and Junges Stuttgart Bach Ensemble of the International Bachakademie Stuttgart.
Leeds is a soloist, having sung with the Bach Society of St. Louis, the Tafelmusik Baroque Chamber Orchestra and Choir, American Bach Soloists Academy and has performed with the Carmel Bach Festival as a Virginia Best Adams Fellow. She has toured with Helmuth Rilling in Eastern Germany as a member of the Weimar Bach Academy and Northern Italy and Southern Germany with the Junges Stuttgart Bach Ensemble. In the U.S., she has performed with the Oregon Bach Festival and this season joins the Handel and Haydn Society.
Jones performs across the U.S. as a soloist and chamber musician. He performs regularly with the Crossing, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, William Ferris Chorale, Grant Park Opera Chorus, the Bridge Ensemble and Chorosynthesis. This coming season he will make his debut with several groups including Conspirare, Apollo’s Fire, Variant 6, ekmeles, Choral Arts Philadelphia and Madison Choral Project. He is also tours and performs as a jazz trumpeter.
The ensemble began in April in Texas, according to Taylor. They did three days personal concert there and now the two days in Brookville. The first day was during the reception held as a thank you to the Historic Brookville Inc., which brought the ensemble to town.
It takes five to six hours a day of practicing to prepare for this type of performance, he said.
While singing without music may seem scary to many people, singing a cappella is the type of music these four vocalists usually do.
“This is a much more fun way to use your voice but you’re also using your ears and it requires a lot musicianship skills and collaboration,” Leeds said.
“It’s sort of an art and a science together –the discipline and the emotion,” Taylor said.
But it wasn’t only the singing that caught the audience’s interest. The performance was held in the Marlin Opera House, which is located above the Opera House Cafe. The two-story opera house takes up the second and third floors. The third floor is the balcony. The venue can now only seat 100 people per fire code but at one time seated 900 people. The original gas fed chandelier still hangs above the main seating area and the gas jets that used to light up the stage are still there, though cool led lights are now used to light the stage.
A quick tour of the backstage area shows the wooden pulleys used to move the four or five backdrops that were once used. The gas controls that could be used to dim or brighten the gas chandeliers are still intact and a small dressing room is off to one side of the stage. While some of the ornate wall designs are somewhat faded, the Marlin still has the power to awe with the history it represents.
Taylor said the opera house is “perfect for this kind of music. The brick and the wood and the design” is perfect for acoustics.
Taylor and Jones have known each other the longest, having sung together in Cincinnati. Taylor says he met Walters a few years after that. Walters and Leeds knew each other as well. The four have each worked with other members of the ensemble at different times over the years. Then Walters had the idea to bring the four of them together into a new ensemble.
While the four will split up for the next few months, they will reunite in January. They will find places where they have connections for the ensemble to perform. To learn more about Alium Spiritum and where it may next perform, check out its Facebook page