Classical music filled the Bratton Recital Hall, located in the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC), at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) this past Sunday evening. The music was vocal and instrumental, featuring the voices of nine undergraduates who were all part of the UNH Treble Choir. The choir is conducted by Dr. Alex Favazza, Jr., a lecturer in the Department of Music, within the College of Liberal Arts.
Favazza and members of the choir filed in soon after the 5 p.m. start time to vigorous applause. Without introduction, they began, launching into the longest piece of the concert: “A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28,” written by 20th century musician Benjamin Britten. The piece contained 12 individual movements.
As the choir sang the first movement, the Procession, they moved to the front of the hall, passing supportive friends, family and students from the Department of Music before standing before the crowd, backs to the floor-to-ceiling pipe organ. They stood on either side of harpist and UNH guest artist, Sorana Scarlat, who provided the only instrumental accompaniment for the entire piece.
Favazza kept his attention wholly on the choir as they sang through the movements, which included singing in English, Latin and variations on the two languages. The choir did not pause between movements.
The audience, approximately 60 people, was quiet and rapt as the choir sang. Almost every member of the choir had a featured solo component during a movement.
With the movement’s end, Favazza took time as the choir prepared for two more songs to speak to the audience for the first time.
“Thank you so much for coming tonight,” he said. “That’s a[n] epic piece of music. We’re a brand new group, we’re very small.” His comradery with the audience was evident as he referenced his wife, sitting in the back of the room, and that the two had recently learned she was pregnant with a baby girl. “If that little girl grows up to be like these women,” he said of the choir, “then we will be so happy.”
He continued to talk of “A Ceremony of Carols,” and the importance of seeing it performed. “If you’ve never heard it live, from them to you, you’re welcome,” he said.
The concert continued with choral versions of two songs from contemporary musicals: “Dear Theodosia,” from blockbuster “Hamilton: The Musical,” and “I Have a Dream,” a mixture of snippets from “Mamma Mia! The Musical.” Favazza sat for these songs, letting the choir sing unconducted. These two songs, the members of the choir had selected themselves, he said, doing much of the “legwork” of preparation.
The choir became more animated for these two contemporary pieces, songbooks from “A Ceremony of Carols” put away, dancing in place to the music, all the while singing.
Elizabeth Blood, a resident artist and staff pianist for the Department of Music, joined the choir on piano for these two songs.
Approximately 45 minutes after the concert began, the choir finished, having sung parts of a variety of songs from “Mamma Mia!” such as iconic ABBA tunes “Dancing Queen,” “Thank you for the Music” and the namesake song “Mamma Mia!” Favazza thanked the applauding crowd. The choir dispersed to friends and family.
After the concert, when asked by The New Hampshire why “A Ceremony of Carols” was performed so far prior to Christmas, Favazza stressed that the holiday did not have a role in his song choice.
“I don’t think of it as a religious thing,” he said, noting it’s “a staple piece of treble choirs.”
Favazza also chose the piece for its splendor, and because he “knew it would highlight the singers. Plus, it’s a piece that you rarely hear in its whole entirety.” This “entirety” included the harp accompaniment. After the concert ended, the harp was covered and wheeled out of the recital hall.
Favazza welcomes students interested in singing for the Treble Choir: “I’d love to have anybody with a treble voice,” he said. Those students should email him at Alex.Favazza@unh.edu. He also expressed his excitement for MUSI 441: Concert Choir, a large choir that does not require auditioning, and will perform two concerts next semester. MUSI 441, he said, has featured a variety of musical genres, not just classical music, and is a one-credit course. Students of any major can participate in either choir.