By Miranda Piedra
CONWAY — Silvia Chandler, president of the Mount Washington Valley Choral Society, and George Wiese, conductor for the society, invite the community to a performance of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" on May 20.
"This is special. It's not often that something like this happens in a community with an amateur ensemble," Wiese said.
The local choir has performed two concerts a year since it has been around, which is for about the past 50 years, said Chandler. Normally, it performs one 10-to-15- minute piece and then shorter songs, but not this time.
At 7:30 p.m. in the Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High, the MWV Choral Society will "tackle" a shorter piece by Brahms and then perform the entire 45-minute by Orff, a German composer who died in 1982 and the age of 86.
The choir will be singing in both Latin and Middle High German, languages that might be recognized by a handful of scholars today.
"It's very difficult to overcome the challenge of the language to express the message of the music. That's something we have worked hard on," Wiese said.
But he believes they have captured "the spirit" of the piece, which was based on medieval German poetry.
"The music does stand on its own," he continued, explaining that "Carmina" is one of the most famous orchestral pieces in existence, yet it has never been translated into English, "and that speaks to how good it is inherently."
Originally composed for an orchestra, Orff's work was an immediate hit in Germany and an edition requiring only two grand pianos and percussionists was written. That is one reasons Kennett's auditorium was selected — "it is one of the only places with two pianos," Wiese laughed.
"Carmina Burana" has been used to sell deodorant and cars, and has even been used during the Super Bowl, but it was originally conceived as a ballet in the mid-1930s, said Wiese.
The music is based on 24 poems Orff chose from a collection of over 200 that were found in a Benedictine monastery in southern Germany during the late 1800s. The poems date back to the 11th and 12th centuries and were "written by students of the clergy," Wiese explained.
"(These students) were satirizing the church and hanging out in taverns with common folk, and the students were writing about these rather lewd experiences they were having," Wiese said.
Each of the 24 poems is set to music and include a soloist singing from the perspective of a swan being roasted over a fire, or girls begging shopkeepers for makeup so that men will fall in love with them, "against their own will," Chandler noted.
Chandler and Wiese laughed, thinking back on their rehearsals. Wiese would ease the choir into singing a line and then once they had completed it, he would tell them what it was that they had said, and the group would burst into laughter.
Some people think choral music is boring, Wiese said, but he challenges "anyone that thinks classical music is boring to come out" to the show.
The choir is made up of 40 diverse singers, from high school students to professional musicians, and some people joined just for this concert because they had heard the selection was "Carmina Burana."
The society prides itself on being open to anyone. "If you want to sing and are willing to make the commitment, you are welcome here," Wiese said.
Whether they had performed it before or were only vaguely familiar with the music, the entire choir was enthusiastic to take on the challenge, Wiese said. While the choir has not lost that excitement, Wiese has promised them the next concert will be in English.
Rehearsals are Monday nights for 12-plus weeks, depending on which concert they build up to.
Since Wiese became conductor of MWV Choral three years ago, "he has challenged us," said Chandler. Before being the conductor, he was Nancy Farris' accompanist for a time.
Farris will now be one of the pianists for the upcoming concert, the other being Ellen Schwindt. The percussionists are students and colleagues of a Portland Symphony Orchestra member, Wiese said.
The show will run for approximately one hour and tickets are $10 per person.
"Come support the community choir," Chandler urged.