Dal’s Coro Collegium: A community affair

A hundred voices strong

- March 22, 2012

The 100-member choir performs Monday, April 2 in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. (Nick Pearce photo)
The 100-member choir performs Monday, April 2 in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. (Nick Pearce photo)

One of the first things Gábor Lukács did when he returned to Halifax this January was check in with Dalhousie’s choir, the Coro Collegium.

“I’d been incredibly missing it,” says the 29-year-old, who was introduced to the group in 2005 while at Dalhousie on a post-doctoral fellowship in mathematics.

For Dr. Lukács, the community choir is the right size and an incredible opportunity to learn from and interact with people of all ages.

On Monday, April 2, he will join 100 fellow choir members, soloists and the Dalhousie student orchestra on stage in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium to present Karl Jenkins’ modern masterpiece "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace."

A community affair

Dr. Lukács, a Hungarian-born math prodigy, came to Canada at age 16 to pursue his PhD at York University.  While at Dalhousie as a Killam post-doctoral fellow 2005, he was introduced to the group by his "Hungarian adopted grandmother" and retired Dalhousie professor, Barbara Harsanyi, after attending a music reading.

While the large-scale Coro Collegium began in 2008, the choir has existed at Dalhousie since the mid-1960s. It is currently made up on 25 per cent students and 75 per cent community members. Conductor Caron Daley says the ages of members range from late teens to early 80s, and everywhere in between.

Choir member Bill Hart, PhD ’77, began singing in church and school choirs as a boy in upstate New York. He was initially drawn to the choir at Dalhousie because of its high quality and evening rehearsal schedule, which is essential to him as a Dalhousie academic advisor.

One of the things Dr. Hart finds most exciting about the choir is the way in which it brings together students and the greater Dalhousie community.

“From an old-timer standpoint, it’s so cool to see students exposed to this,” he says, referring to the opportunity to perform in a large chorus and tackle high-level pieces. He says the learning goes both ways. “These are our new teachers and innovators; I’m very lucky to be able to interact with them.”   

Applicants must audition and need music literacy skills to participate. Both Dr. Hart and Lukács say the choir is musically challenging, but they like it. “You learn the most from people who know much more than you,” says Dr. Lukács.

The Armed Man

Ms. Daley selected Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man” for this year’s performance.  

Sung in the form of a traditional Catholic Mass, the piece is infused with different styles, voices and languages, including the Islamic call to prayer and words from writer Sankichi Toge, a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima bombing.

The piece isn’t the easiest one to sing, says Ms. Daley, referring to the sometimes difficult depictions of war it presents.

However, she says, “You can't perform a piece of art by looking at it from the distance.” The piece allows opportunity for both the performer and the listener to participate.

Ms. Daley, who has been teaching choral music for overa decade, chose the 1999 piece in part because it is so new. YouTube and the new media have allowed her to see the composer’s vision first-hand.  

“You can’t do that with Mozart or Bach!” she says.  

The Coro Collegium and Symphonic Orchestra will also be joined on-stage by soloists Barbara DeMaio Caprilli, Marcia Swanston, Gregory Servant and Ryan Josey. The April 2 event is the only one in the academic year which brings together these groups on one stage.

“The depth of sound is incredible,” says Ms. Daley.

She, along with Dalhousie musicologist Jacqueline Warwick, will host a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. in the Sculpture Court of the Arts Centre. This talk will provide a musical, historical and cultural context for the piece. 

Throwing open the doors

Dr. Hart, who heard the piece when it was first produced, was thrilled with Daley announced they’d be performing it. He says it is one of the most amazing pieces of music he’s ever seen.  

He also sees performance as an opportunity to celebrate Dalhousie and give back to the community; it’s something he’s excited to share.

The audience will know they’ve had an experience,” he says.

As a nod to community, the Department of Music is pleased to welcome Dalhousie alumni to this event at a reduced rate.  Interested parties are encouraged to contact FASS alumni officer Krista Armstrong for more information.   

Tickets are available for $25 general/$20 student through the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office. Call 902.494.3820 or visit the Arts Centre website for more information.


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