On December 1st at 8 PM, the Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers, led by director Nathan Reiff, will transport Lang Concert Hall through a range of time periods and spaces, with repertoire spanning several centuries and continents.
The Swarthmore College Chorus, which brings together singers from the student body, faculty, and wider community, will collaborate with professional guest organist David von Behren for their concert. Von Behren, the Assistant University Organist and Choirmaster of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, will also perform an open-to-all lunchtime recital on December 1st at 12:30 PM.
“The organ had been out of commission for many years, so now with the renovation complete, it seemed like a really wonderful time to explore the great body of choral repertoire which features the organ,” says Reiff. Most of this repertoire comes from a specific Christian church tradition, so the Chorus program this semester is very much representative of that.
Nonetheless, Reiff was keen to “provide variety even in the specific context of this theme and subject matter.” One piece in particular — “sleeper’s prayer” by David Lang — is “a rare piece of [organ] music that is somewhat secularly inspired, with some connection with Jewish tradition.”
The Garnet Singers, a select, mixed-voice ensemble of approximately 24 students, will be presenting a wide variety of pieces. “The repertoire spans many centuries, languages, cultures and traditions, centering on themes of longing and fulfillment,” explains Reiff. From a piece written by William Byrd to honor 400 years since the composer’s death, to contemporary works including a piece by indigenous Canadian composer Sherryl Sewepagaham, Reiff hopes that “there will be something in the performance that every listener will connect with.”
This concert will be particularly special for Reiff as it is his first at Swarthmore: “I’m really eager to get to experience the excitement of performing with everyone in both choirs and to share the work we’ve been doing throughout the semester.”
The concert will also be a first for Jenna Takach ’24, who will conduct “Nunc Dimittis” from Collegium Regale by Herbert Howells for the Chorus and “Gebet” by Max Bruch for the Garnet Singers. Previously, Takach had worked with the Garnet Singers as a conductor, but this will be her first time leading the Chorus. “Working with an organist is going to be fun—the biggest challenge will be conveying through more expansive gestures what I want to someone who is high up in the organ loft, as well as [navigating] the relationship with a large choir.”
Community member Julia Welbon shares a similar excitement: “It’s terrific to be using the restored organ, which we have waited [many] years to have repaired.” Welbon, who worked to support the administration of the Psychology department for 27 years, first sang with the Chorus in 1976, and has been a steadfast member throughout that time and in the ten years since her retirement. For her, the Chorus is “a great way to build community. I loved having a different way of interacting with students when I was on the staff.”
This sentiment of community is echoed by Chorus and Garnet Singers newcomer Zoe Tang ’27, who had “never been able to sing with such a large group of people in a setting like this… it’s really nice to hear all our sounds together and it makes me feel like I’m part of a greater whole.” Jorge Padilla ’24, now in his seventh semester with both the Chorus and Garnet Singers, agrees: “We all come together, build off of one another, and create such beautifully captivating sounds that enrich the meaning behind each piece we perform.”
The Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers will perform in Lang Concert Hall on Friday, December 1st, at 8 PM. The concert, which is free and open to the public, will feature solos by Dessa Caguioa ’24, Aleah Nale ’27, Lizzie Culp ’26, and Jules Lee-Zacheis ’25, as well as additional solo pieces for the organ. This fresh and diverse showcase of Swarthmore’s talented vocalists in tandem with the newly restored organ is not one to be missed.