Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Shepherd University from West Virginia: a musical banquet

Yes, a banquet, that’s what it was. It was more than just a concert, it was yet another example of the best of US education bringing excellence, in this case in music, half way across the world.
Last Sunday I went to a concert in nearby Getafe, at the amazing theatre, a mix of Art Deco and Soviet style architecture: here's a photo to prove I was there:

I knew that there was going to be a Spanish choir as part of the evening, but as there was no programme it was all a bit of a surprise, but I knew the first group on was the local one because the photocopied scores are always the give- away. The choir was the  Coro de la Capilla Renacentista, led by Dr. Carlos Delgado Acosta.  I do not know where they are based, maybe at the local Carlos III university? Can anyone tell me? They performed a really accurate rendition of several movements of a Latin mass by Schutz, a solid start to the evening, so thank you.
Then came the first contribution from students from Shepherd University. Right, I had never heard of Shepherd University. Kara Madden, at the Fulbright Commission office in Madrid, always challenges students to look around the USA to find quality institutions they have never heard of, and this is definitely one  students should be looking at. This is what the web page says:
“Shepherd University is a state-supported institution within the West Virginia system of higher education. From its beginnings over 130 years ago, the University has evolved into a comprehensive center of higher learning, serving a number of related, yet distinct roles”
 Read it for yourself here:  http://www.shepherd.edu/university/about/

So, here’s the Chamber Choir, conducted by the charismatic Dr. Erik Jones. What a beautiful unison sound of the women’s voices together, superb blending, the Emily Dickinson poem setting was really moving. When I see  a mention of 20th century Swiss composer Frank Martin a shiver goes down my spine: when I was a music student, same age as these wonderful young people, I struggled for months with some piano pieces by this composer and totally failed to master them. I know now, but did not understand then, that I did not relate to his musical language and that the music was beyond my technical grasp. Fortunately, neither is true of this chamber choir and their excellent director: you would think they were born to this music, they sang it so well. The closing bars were magical, the hairs on the back of my neck are reacting now, two days later, as I think about those moments. 

Then we had  the large choir right? See, I did not take notes. Anyway the large choir sang just as beautifully and with wonderful dynamic and tonal range. I did not take note of the titles, but I remember the Seal Lullaby, and a spiritual, and of course the joint item with the local choir, Joshua. Wonderful singing, great control and a lovely blend of tone.
I do not know Dr Jones, but his stage presence reminds me of Elton John, dynamic movements at the end of songs (take that as a compliment, I’m listening to the man himself as I write these notes).

And finally to the symphonic wind band directed by Dr. Mark McCoy: more than 40 players, including 10 trumpets, sheer delight. I really felt for these players, as lots of them had been sitting on stage for an hour and a half before playing a note. But when they played, wow! Amazing Grace was gorgeous, a really beautiful example of solo and ensemble playing. Sorry I do not know the solo trumpeter’s name, but her playing brought tears to my eyes.
The great thing about not having a printed programme is you don’t know what’s coming up next. I would guess this is the first time Mahler has been performed in this theatre in Getafe, and it was beautifully performed by the band with a soprano solo, whose name  is the name of a famous person, but this was not the famous person, it was  a Shepherd student, hmmm, anyway well done. Excellent enunciation in  German, and a beautiful sound.
And then, to finish, some crowd pleasers, because Dr. McCoy, apart from being a fantastic musician and director,  is a clever man and knows how to send everyone home happy: a Spanish composer’s Danzón, a Mambo, and even a Pasadoble.

Here are  couple of photos, not great because I didn’t want to get too close, but I have in mind the sound, the beautiful sound of the wonderful choirs and band from Shepherd University, West Virginia. Thanks for a great evening, I really enjoyed it. Thanks, too, to Wens Travel, specialists in music tours, for arranging everything for the big night: http://www.wens.nl/index_en.html 


  1. This is Erik Jones, the choral director. I just want to personally take a moment and thank you for such a wonderful write-up of our concert. It means a lot to all of us, and me personally, to read your kind words. Thank you!

  2. My name is Becky, and I am one of the students from Shepherd University who played in the wind ensemble. Thank you for your lovely article, and thank you to all of the people of Spain who made us feel so welcome, especially the choirs that we performed with, and the wonderful audiences that we played for! It was the trip of a lifetime, one that I will never forget!!!