Women’s Advanced Ensemble shines in ‘Cantamus’ debut

By Ian Beabout, Online Editor

Friday, April 1st saw the debut performance of the WLU’s new Women’s Advanced Ensemble.  Held in the Interfaith Chapel, Cantamus: A Celebration of Women in Music saw an amazing turnout for this April Fool’s Day show with nearly every pew filled with students and music fans from throughout the community.

There were eight total performers in the ensemble – sopranos Anna Gross, Gabby Bennett, Hannah Guidish, and Lindsay Six, along with altos Amanda Tamplen, Elizabeth Conley, Kassidi Reitter, and Emily Wade. The women were augmented on some pieces by a string quartet consisting of Benjamin Podolski and Eliza McGowan on violin, Michelle Stack on viola, and Rayce Leib on cello, with piano provided by Deborah Breiding, Doctor Gerald Lee, and choral director Scott Glysson, and additional vocal performances by Doctors Angela Day and Linda Cowan, both vocal instructors at WLU.

The program centered on women. All of the pieces were written by, written for, or written about women and spanned the 11th century through the 20th. The program began with a selection of pieces dedicated to the Virgin Mary – first with O Frondens Virga, a beautifully haunting chant composed by one of the original women composers, Hildegard of Bingen, which set a solemn tone with its overlapping harmonies and stagnant, sparse, string accompaniment. As a fan of early music, this was a perfect way to start the program and set the tone for a wonderfully enjoyable evening.

Third on the program were two movements of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater which was the most purely classical offering of the night and I found myself lost in the stacks of harmonies these women pulled off seemingly effortlessly on stage. In between pieces, Glysson commented on the difficulty of singing these pieces together as an ensemble – from my perspective it seemed like second nature to these excellent performers.

The performance was marked by consisting shifting tone from deeply serious and religious to the delightful goofiness of Giacchino Rossini’s Duetto Buffo Di Due Gatti (translation – humorous duet for two cats, yes cats) which was delivered entirely in meows and promptly erupted in a scratching, hissing cat-fight. The performance concluded, interestingly, with a couple of pieces selected by the ensemble Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (guest trumpeter Andy Grindle delivered a blues trumpet solo) and a bit of fun, “I’m Going to Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair” from Richard Rodger’s South Pacific. Though I liked a bit of comic relief at the end of the program, I have to say the first half was more to my taste, with the Hildegard and Pergolesi pieces my personal favorites.

I also enjoyed the way the program was constructed. Audiences were treated to a couple of poems to break up the music which kept me engaged and not sure what to expect next. The poems ranged from beautiful love poetry to impassioned, bold statements on women’s rights.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the debut performance of the WLU Advanced Women’s Ensemble, despite being a primarily instrumental guy. It was hard not to walk away with a feeling of pride for our school and the talent we have on display here. Their next performance is not to be missed.