Rogue Valley Chorale sings together again

·3 min read

Jun. 1—ASHLAND — Try singing "Happy Birthday" with a group of friends over Zoom — "it is a cacophony you won't believe," said Michael Morris, artistic director for the Rogue Valley Chorale Association.

When the pandemic shut down the chorale's schedule in March 2020, Morris watched as many arts organizations turned to virtual formats to practice and perform. But a Zoom chorus is somewhat oxymoronic — technical latency tends to generate a discordant mash of noise.

"It's so much work and pretty expensive, and the product at the end is satisfying for three minutes and it's gone," Morris said. "I just made the decision that we weren't going to do that — other directors have made that same decision."

As virtual options improved, Southern Oregon PBS allowed the chorale to make an hourlong episode available on PBS's national streaming service over Christmas. In February, the chorale began hybrid rehearsals, with eight singers physically distanced in the room representing another 87 singers behind screens with muted microphones.

"I knew we could not do this project if we only rehearsed online," Morris said.

Returning from its 2020 postponement, the chorale will bring "Carmina Burana," written by Carl Orff, back to the stage June 11 and 13 with performances at Grizzly Peak Winery.

Attendance is capped at 400 people per performance due to limited parking. Some chairs, wine and concessions will be available — audience members are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket and a meal.

The performance incorporates 99 singers from four choruses and a 42-member professional orchestra, featuring large brass and percussion sections. A selection of the performance's 25 movements will feature the chorale's children and youth choirs, including elementary, middle and high school students.

During rehearsals, singers rotated weekly as the in-person crew grew from eight to 22 performers, soloists and section managers. The first week of May, the entire chorale rehearsed outside together for the first time since March 2020.

"Everyone could finally sing together again," Morris said. "The second benefit was that's how we're performing it, so it gave them the practice of actually having to listen to each other and sing in this wide open space. ... The choir was able to maintain a sense of purpose and a sense of development."

Written in the late 1930s, "Carmina Burana" is one of the most frequently performed 20th-century choral compositions. The public will recognize much of the music, and every chorale enthusiast wants to sing this piece — "an opera in cantata form," Morris said.

Highly dramatic and operatic, the composition is based on a set of secular poems from the 11th through 13th centuries, laced together in a storyline written in middle high German. The story is based on the social influence of the Roman goddess Fortuna.

"When something wrong would happen, they would say, 'The goddess Fortuna has spun the wheel and I'm going to have a bad year,'" Morris explained.

The music centers on motifs of love and lost love, fate and seasonality. The first and last movements of the piece are the same, adding to the theme of the spinning wheel in this "tone painting," he said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.

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