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The Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers Spring 2024 Performance

On Friday, April 26th, 2024 at 8 p.m., the Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers will take to the Lang Music Concert Hall stage, presenting a varied program that includes sacred and secular works spanning hundreds of years and many languages. 

The Garnet Singers, a mixed-voice ensemble of approximately 35 students, will share a program centered around themes of love and loss, including contemporary works by Joan Szymko and Andrea Ramsey. They will also premiere pieces by student composers and longstanding members of both Chorus and Garnet Singers, Eric Trinh '24 and Dessa Caguioa '24. 

As part of an enduring tradition of featuring student compositions, Director Nathan Reiff was “thrilled to be able to work with Eric and Dessa to share their pieces for the first time,” explaining that both pieces “touch on themes of love and loss, though from very different perspectives.”

Trinh’s piece, “Ave, o Maria,” was written in honor of his alma mater, Saint Maria Goretti Catholic High School, which will unfortunately shut down at the end of this year. “[The piece] was written with a lot of reflection in mind, considering the long institutional history of my high school,” Trinh reminisces. He hopes to honor his school’s legacy and is grateful for the opportunity to share this piece through a performance with the Garnet Singers. 

The emotional depth in Trinh’s piece can also be found in Caguioa’s piece, “Elegy.” “When I first started composing [“Elegy”], I was coming from a difficult time in my life,” she recounts. She praises Reiff for his openness in working closely with her to convey these complex ideas. For Caguioa, the experience of hearing her piece brought to life by fellow students has been “wildly different” from hearing the words in her head. “It sometimes gives me chills,” she describes. “It’s also terrifying because it’s such a personal piece.” Caguioa previously arranged “Hawaiʻi Aloha” for Garnet Singers last spring, and most recently, the Wind Ensemble premiered another one of her compositions, “Homeward.” “Elegy” is her first original piece for a choral ensemble. 

When considering their overall program, Reiff was keen for Garnet Singers to “take on a larger piece that includes an instrumental ensemble.” Thus, the centerpiece of their program is a wonderful and dramatic cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, Nach dir, Herr, (BWV 150), featuring an instrumental chamber ensemble and student soloists. This piece is particularly exciting for Reiff, who is thrilled to have the opportunity to “dig in to a staple of the Baroque repertoire” in his second semester at Swarthmore: “Bach wrote hundreds of cantatas – multi-movement pieces featuring instruments and singers usually centered in the Lutheran theological tradition – and Nach dir, Herr is one of my personal favorites.” Written early on in Bach’s career, the piece features a “near-constant shifting of character that makes for lively and very dramatic music!” 

Comprising singers from the student body, faculty, and wider community, Chorus will perform several pieces from folk and popular genres, including traditional American and Lesothan songs, and works by Carlos Guastavino, Reena Esmail, Josquin des Prez, and Joni Mitchell. “Last semester, Chorus explored sacred works for singers and organ, so this semester we've moved in a very different direction,” Reiff explains. “Many of our pieces touch on the subjects of love and loss as well, and it's been interesting to see how a 16th-century Burgundian composer like Josquin has many of the same things to say about those topics as, say, Joni Mitchell.”

Swarthmore College Chorus welcomes new members every semester; as such, no two concerts feature the same combination of voices. For Sydney Hankin ’27, joining Chorus this semester was her first opportunity to sing in such a large group: “Getting to come here and be a part of a group that has about 85 people is just such a neat way to learn about different styles of songs and enjoy hearing the full sound of pieces . . . I feel like I have a huge network to rely on [when singing].”

Hankin has also enjoyed the “totally student-led experience” of learning Latin American composer Carlos Guastavino’s “Gala del Día,” which will be conducted by veteran student conductor Jenna Takach ’24. “The whole group has been really proud of the effort that we’ve put into this piece; it really has that extra energy,” Hankin comments.

According to Caguioa, now in her final semester as a soprano in Chorus, the process of exploring and learning such a wide variety of repertoire has been a “world tour of sorts.” This sentiment is echoed by Reiff, who recalls that “it was a special treat to have Katleo Pule ’27 come to visit a rehearsal. She is a student from Lesotho and kindly offered incredibly helpful context and diction guidance for “Tau Ya Thaba,” a traditional Lesothan folk song that we’re preparing.”

With such a diverse selection of pieces from composers old and new, the Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers promise an evening of reflection, excitement and discovery. Their concert will be held on Friday, April 26, 2024 in the Lang Music Concert Hall, and will be free and open to the public. In the words of Reiff, “There should be something for everyone!