The score of “Miracles” by J.D. Frizzell is ready on the Columbus Girlchoir’s piano as Dr. Cherry Dunn conducts rehearsal. The commissioned score will be heard for the first time May 9 when the choir presents its free Spring Concert at Mississippi University for Women’s Poindexter Hall at 7:30 p.m. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
May 3, 2014 11:03:54 PM
The last word -- "small" -- takes three different notes, 26 seconds and discreet breathing.
That's the challenge the Columbus Girlchoir will meet May 9 when it sings the world premiere of "Miracles" by Memphis composer J.D. Frizzell.
He wrote this three-minutes setting of Elizabeth Rooney's poem by that name for the Girlchoir's 10th anniversary. The premiere is part of the choir's free spring concert in Mississippi University for Women's Poindexter Hall at 7:30 p.m.
Founding Director Dr. Cherry Dunn will conduct the 41-member senior choir, accompanied by Rachel Delk. The annual spring concert also features the 28-member junior choir, conducted by Tina Morgan. Andrew Miller and The YMCA handbells, "Drastic Measures," are on the program, too.
Dunn said Frizzell's piece illustrates the choir's improvement since 2004.
"We are definitely singing harder music now than we did when we started. We started in 2004 with unison and two-part music," she said. "Now we are singing in four parts and singing pieces in Latin, French, Spanish, English and Third World dialects. Our goal is to develop girls vocally while introducing them to quality music that is different from what we hear in the pop culture."
That progress has seen the choir sing at festivals in New Orleans and North Carolina, capped off by a performance in Carnegie Hall last May -- just after the Girlchoir returned to Poindexter Hall after its renovation.
For that reopening, Frizzell composed "The Choir Invisible" for the MUW choirs -- "beautiful, sing-able music," Dunn said. "So for the 10th anniversary, I told J.D. we wanted a three-to-four-minute piece that was joyful and had a message." Frizzell's wife, Emily, was a member of the first Girlchoir 10 years ago.
Dr. Doug Browning, choir director at First United Methodist Church, had recommended Frizzell for the Poindexter piece, and Columbus native Kenneth Bozeman introduced Dunn to Rooney's poetry.
Last June, Dunn sent Rooney's poem to Frizzell, who started the piece right away and finished "Miracles" on Jan. 1. "The poem served as a melodic and thematic inspiration to me," he said.
Frizzell called the Columbus group "a group with a tradition of excellence and a great director."
"I work with high school women's choirs every day," he said, "so I am familiar with their abilities and limitations and try to keep those factors in mind while composing." He hopes to be at the May 9 anniversary concert.
Bozeman heads the voice department at Lawrence Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin, and was in town for some anniversary concert practices.
"The Girlchoir is singing excellent, challenging, appealing repertoire," said Bozeman. "Whether or not the young ladies pursue music in college or professionally, they will reap lifelong pleasure from their singing as a result of this experience.
"And they will be ale to offer music beautifully performed to future audiences," he added.
Choir members are enjoying Frizzell's commissioned piece.
"I like the changes in volume as we sing," said soprano Anna Reed Hairston. "The words are dynamic and powerful."
Soprano Hope Bassett added, "In everyday life people forget how big the universe is, how cool, how awesome it is. Then in this piece, even the little things matter -- as shown by the word 'small' at the end."
Said Director Dunn, "This piece uses dissonance effectively, the chord colors are beautiful. Rhythmically, it is tricky and a good challenge with its metrical changes."
Dunn noted that 10 years with the Girlchoir has benefited her, too.
"It is gratifying to me to watch these singers grow in their self-confidence, mental focus and discipline. I enjoy fostering a sense of community among the members.
"Thanks to our board and great community support we can give them new experiences -- like singing in Carnegie Hall last year," she said.
The anniversary concert will open with Mary Lightfoot's "A Festive Alleluia" and include a junior choir medley from "The Sound of Music." Choir favorite "Taylor, the Latte Boy," by Marcy Heisler, will be the final number."