Consolation of Apollo: A Photo Tour

 

In case you missed our last two performances of this program, you have one more chance to see our full program at UT Arlington Planetarium on April 14th at 4:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

Sam and I returned to Dallas late last night after a two-day escape to the Hill Country. We hiked the hills of Pedernales Falls and Colorado Bend State Parks, and in the fresh air beneath crystal clear skies, we breathed peace after several weeks of life at full tilt.

Our first Consolation of Apollo concerts shared the weekend with an Orpheus Chamber Singers performance, and with many singers sharing their time between Dallas ensembles, almost half the choir had spent every night of the week either in rehearsal or performance. The entire ensemble completed the two concert run with a sense of relief and accomplishment.

Yet again, our photographer, Dickie Hill, beautifully captured moments from our Sunday concert at Royal Lane Baptist Church. Look through his lens for a peek inside our star-studded evening (and no, that’s not a reference to the major movie awards night with which we were competing for audience that evening). Check out footage and photos from the rehearsal process leading up to our concert weekend.

We rehearsed every Monday night for five weeks. The major work on which the concert is built, The Consolation of Apollo by Kile Smith, challenged both the singers and Sam throughout the rehearsal process. Smith sets direct transcripts of the astronauts' broadcasts from space. In the original recordings of their broadcasts, the radio static makes the dialogue difficult to clearly understand. Smith recreates this feeling by slightly offsetting the rhythm of each sentence for an echo effect that requires intense concentration from each singer. For the musicians involved, it poses an unrelenting, mentally exhausting musical challenge. Here's a clip of some hard-earned success in rehearsal.

In the clip above, you'll see Alex Bumpas, tenor, playing the bass drum, and Meredith Tompkins, soprano, playing the crotales. Both had the added mental gymnastics of performing percussion parts while singing. Apollo MVPs.

On the Thursday of concert week, the choir drove out to Brown Middle School in Forney, TX - where Sam is middle school choir director - for an assembly with the eighth grade. Typically, outreach like this might just be shared with the choir program, so we were unsure of the interest level we'd see when singing for the whole of the eighth grade class. Sam and his principal organized a larger cross-curricular effort surrounding the Apollo 8 mission, so most students had interacted with this moment in history in their other classes.

We performed selections from our concert with introductions to each piece by a choir member. We were met with fascinated expressions and engaged listeners, especially when Alex Bumpas described the astronauts as "cowboys in a tin can" possessing less than half the technology in their entire spacecraft as each student had in the cell phone in their pockets.

On Friday, we performed our concert in the narthex at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Plano. We sang our previous concerts there in the chapel, but with a program about the heavens, we felt we needed a larger space and a higher ceiling. The narthex provided an excellent acoustic and a flexible performance space.

 Setup before Friday's concert. Photo: Sam Brukhman

Setup before Friday's concert. Photo: Sam Brukhman

On Sunday, we gathered at 6pm for sound check and a rapid cue-to-cue before doors opened.

 Sam leads us through sound check before Sunday's concert. Photo: Dickie Hill

Sam leads us through sound check before Sunday's concert. Photo: Dickie Hill

Sunday's pre-concert mood was significantly more playful as we had already performed this challenging program once and were looking forward to singing with greater assurance.

 Using our stand lights as alien antennas before we launched into Sunday's concert. Photo: Dickie Hill

Using our stand lights as alien antennas before we launched into Sunday's concert. Photo: Dickie Hill

The first half of the program, featuring music by Meredith Monk and Urmas Sisask, had the choir moving around the entire performance space with stand lights shining like stars. 

 

As we slowly moved towards the front of the performance space, we sang Monk's raucous Panda Chant before progressing into the joyously communal Sisask pieces.

 

During the final Sisask piece, we gradually assembled into our formation for Consolation of Apollo and took a deep breath anticipating the challenge ahead.

In our post-concert chatter and relief, we all shared the sense of having delivered a performance where we were able to truly engage with each other and the music as we developed more comfort with the program. One of the consistent comments we receive after concerts is that we are interesting to watch while we sing - audiences can tell that we deeply enjoy each other and the music. This is my favorite bit of feedback to hear. I want our interaction on stage to be visible and engaging to our audiences. We are humans doing something deeply personal and communal - using our voices in harmony - and I dearly want audiences to see that. Sure choral music can be super serious and formal, but it's also joyful and interactive and light-hearted.

With that in mind, here are some of the best smiles caught by Dickie that evening. Can you tell we like doing this? (Also look for one very tired face. Did I mention it was a long week for all of us?)

 
Erinn Sensenig