Associate Professor of Music Tom Lloyd leads the Bi-Co Chamber Singers in "There is Another Sky."
Bridging the Distance for Bi-Co Singers and a Swiss Composer
The Bi-Co Chamber Singers have traveled all over the world—from Turkey and Poland to Ghana and Costa Rica—but on November 9, they sang in Switzerland without ever leaving MacCrate Recital Hall on campus. The 37-person chamber choir, led by Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral and Vocal Studies Tom Lloyd, performed “There is Another Sky” (video) for its Swiss composer, Ivo Antognini, over Skype.
“We thought it would be great to sing for you over the Internet, since we found your piece over the Internet,” said Lloyd in his introduction to Antognini.
And then with the composer seated in his darkened kitchen—it was 10:30 p.m. in Aranno, where he lives in southern Switzerland—and the sun just starting to set on a late fall afternoon in Haverford, the Chamber Singers launched into their version of the piece, which is based on the Emily Dickenson poem of the same name and features handclaps, percussive body taps, dance moves and animal noises in certain sections. (It is a song they recently performed in Thomas Great Hall as part of Bryn Mawr College’s Friends and Family Weekend.)
“It went well in the most important ways,” said Lloyd of the video teleconference rehearsal. “I think the students felt like they had a real encounter with the composer and gained some new insight into the music they had learned.”
Though it is not unusual for singing groups to perform for the composers of their modern repertoire and, in fact, the Chamber Singers have sung for composers both here and on their trips abroad, this occasion marked the first time they had ever done so via Skype, the Internet video chat application.
After the Chamber Singers’ initial performance, Antognini, a native Italian speaker, answered questions from the students about his composition process, his favorite composers, the specific animal noises he had in mind for the piece and his use of “choralography” (the percussive dance moves written into the score) as best as he could in English.
“In my music, I write what I feel,” he told one student in response to a query about the unexpected juxtaposition of jazz and classical elements in “There is Another Sky.” “When I wrote this piece I was thinking about something mystical and intimate… I never know why I go where I go in my music. It is a surprise to me.”
Though Antognini was pleased with the performance, he offered specific instructions—namely that the opening choral passage move faster—to make it sound more like he had initially imagined it. Lloyd, who will be conducting the piece again in the spring, was grateful for the feedback, but also said a conversation with the students about possible changes in interpretation would be another opportunity to explore the creative process next semester when they revisit the piece.
“The interesting thing about any artistic creation is that once it leaves the composer's hands and goes into the public sphere, it takes on a life of its own,” said Lloyd. “The interpretation of a novel, a poem, or a painting varies according to who is reading or observing the work of art. … But we still try to stretch the limitations of our own creative worlds to include as much of the point of view of the creator as we can—this is how we grow as artists and performers.”
The singers ran through the piece two additional times, making Antognini’s adjustments, and ended with a performance of the spiritual “Ride the Chariot” to the delight of the composer, who offered bravos at the end. Lloyd, for his part, was excited about how this online meeting allowed his singers “to be able to enter into this whole conversation about how a work of art comes into being and how its expressive and interpretive life continues after the moment of creation.”
Antognini was pleased with the meeting, too, expressing surprise at the high level of skill in a liberal arts college’s choir. The meeting’s virtual location even inspired him to offer suggestions for renaming his composition.
“We could give it another title,” he said, “ ‘There is Another Skype!’ ”
Watch all the videos of this event in one YouTube playlist here.