Tschesnokov's "Salvation is Created" with the Wabash College Alumni Glee Club
(photos by Dr. John Zimmerman)
I've long sensed the strong bond felt among choral musicians...I see it with my students, members of the Symphonic Choir, in churches. But it was brought home to me again, more clearly than before, during this past weekend's Wabash College Homecoming and the Alumni Glee Club Reunion.
My alma mater is nothing if not steeped in tradition--the "ringing in" of the new freshman class, chapel sing, Pan-hel, and more. Every anniversary is duly celebrated with reverent fanfare at Wabash. So this year's 120th anniversary of the founding of the Wabash College Men's Glee Club was a perfect focus for the college's centennial homecoming.
One result of all this traditionalism is that alums-including me-love to return to campus. Every few years, the music department hosts a reunion of former Glee Club singers, for a chance to sing, catch up with one another, and enjoy some "TWR" ("typical Wabash refreshment").
Current Glee Club Director Dr. Richard Bowen graciously invited me to conduct on this weekend's concert. His invitation, and that opportunity, meant more to me than he might have guessed. For, despite its occasionally rustic energy (or perhaps because of it!), the Wabash Glee Club was an important part of my pivot to music after a sequence of aborted academic majors in my freshman year. Singing on tours to Florida, Pittsburgh and New York City, under the leadership of Dr. Stanley Malinowski, gave me my first tastes of choral leadership and conducting. In fact, my conducting debut was with the Glee Club in a concert at DePauw University for Monon Bell Weekend many years ago. To lead this group now as an established professional would be an opportunity to savor indeed!
It was kind of surreal being on campus, and sharing the stage with current students and Glee Club members. At times we alumni felt as if we were musical ghosts, invited to a musical Walpurgis Night to commune but briefly with the present keepers of the Wabash choral flame.
In performance, the Tschesnokov impressed with the many rumbling low notes, and "Old King Cole" drew an immediate and raucous standing ovation. But of the three works I directed, it was the Fenno Heath arrangement of "My Lord, What a Mornin'" that hit closest to home. How I recall hearing that work performed when I was a student, its shimmering overtones illuminating the austere Wabash Chapel. Standing in the present-day Salter Concert Hall, the warm vocal colors of my alumni colleagues washing past me, I felt the shiver of musical deja-vu; Eric the music student and Eric the professor/conductor/middle-aged man standing side-by-side, each greeting the other with a look of knowing appreciation, embraced among the glad and open hearts of lovers of singing.
How lucky I felt to have the chance to embrace my musical heritage. How lucky are we all who sing together, who make music, and share our lives and our memories.