Hopeful Selection of Psalms and Hymns on the Program for BYU Choirs

Livestreamed concerts on consecutive nights promise an unforgettable vocal experience

Livestream Performance Schedule:

  • 11/19 BYU Singers and Concert Choir: Psalms and Celebrations, 7:30 p.m.
  • 11/20 Men’s Chorus and Women’s Chorus: In Hymns of Praise, 7:30 p.m.

The BYU choirs have long cultivated a tradition of excellence, a celebration of song keenly felt by audiences at each live performance. 

Now pandemic restrictions have altered rehearsals, downsized ensembles and required all concerts this term to go strictly virtual. Despite these setbacks, conductors and choir members have met every challenge with positivity, creativity and determination to provide a meaningful experience for at-home audiences.

“It’s historic that the choirs are able to perform at all,” said Andrew Crane, conductor of the BYU Singers. “There are many university choirs throughout the nation who are not able to meet in person this year, so we’re grateful to be able to do that.”

A joint concert on November 19 will feature the BYU Singers and Concert Choir as they explore the theme of Psalms and Celebrations.

The BYU Singers have performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and other prestigious venues around the world. 

The repertoire chosen for the Singers program is meant to heal and inspire, and will open with Two American Alleluias, “The Tree of Life” by Mack Wilberg and “Alleluia” by Elaine Hagenberg. The next segment, Songs in Times of Plague, will feature “Stella caeli extirpavit,” written during a late outbreak of the Black Death; “Jerusalem” by C.H.H. Parry, who died from the 1918 Spanish flu; and “Let My Love Be Heard” by Jake Runestad, a contemporary work about the grief associated with the loss of a loved one. The final two sets address current social issues and feature the music of Black American composers.

“We’ve never done a concert without an audience, so we are searching for ways to allow the audience to engage with this livestream event,” Crane said. “We’re going to have some projected video presentations during the concert, and we’re looking at the possibility of subtitles and maybe even an interactive way for the audience to make comments online while the singing is going on.”

The midpoint of the program will be Eric Whitacre’s tender “Goodnight Moon” for soprano solo, strings and harp, featuring new vocal faculty member Jennifer Youngs as well as harp students from the School of Music. 

Concert Choir, directed by Brent Wells, has just 44 members this semester because of distancing requirements, down from 90 in previous years. “There certainly have been some logistical challenges,” said Wells, who is new to the Choral Department this year. “We’re lucky we’ve been able to rehearse in person. Students have been really supportive of the guidelines and willing to do anything necessary to continue to sing. It’s been a real blessing, not just from an administrative standpoint, but because of the willingness of students to make it happen.”

Bach’s “Cantata 196” will be the centerpiece of the Concert Choir program. The choir will also perform Psalm 23, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” by Randall Thompson and Psalm 135, “Praise the Name of the Lord,” and will end with the rousing anthem Psalm 37, “Oh Clap Your Hands All Ye People.”

“The content is on point and timely. There is a nod to recognize what’s happening around us, but there is also a heavy element of celebration,” Wells said. “Through this journey of COVID, we wanted to frame our message with songs of praise and thankfulness. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a time we most need to be grateful and not fixated on the negative.”

The November 20 performance will feature the ever-popular BYU Men’s Chorus and Women’s Chorus. 

Women’s Chorus has just 80 members this year due to COVID restrictions, with half of the choir rehearsing on alternate days. Directed by Sonja Poulter, new to the Choral Department in 2019, this auditioned choir is known for its beautiful, blended sound and rich harmonies. The choral program will include stirring anthems and reflective chorale settings in keeping with the evening’s theme, and will feature an arrangement of “The Iron Rod” by graduate student CJ Madsen.

Men’s Chorus, also reduced to 80 members, is typically 180 members strong and known for its robust, stirring sound. Conductor Brent Wells explained some of the safety precautions they are following. “We still meet four days a week. Half of the members meet via Zoom, the other half in person. We sing socially distanced in masks, which presents the challenge of hearing one another in the way we’re accustomed to. I also use a microphone so students can hear me more easily.”

For its program, the choirs will explore hymns across the Christian tradition — including Gregorian chant — that appeal to a broad, worldwide livestream audience.

“Sometimes we are blessed, sometimes we’re reflective about the past and future, or about a sense of loss,” Wells said. “From joyfulness to grappling with challenges and sorrows, we hope our music will bridge the full range of human emotion.”