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'Carnegie Hall comes to Oxford'

Dr. Craig Arnold will direct the “Sunrise Mass” performance at OHS Feb. 25. (click for larger version)
February 22, 2012 - Oxford High School Choir Director Christopher Card is calling the upcoming musical performance at the high school "Carnegie Hall comes to Oxford."

On Saturday, Feb. 25, select students from the high school choir program, along with Grand Haven Choral Ensemble and Rochester College Chorus will present "Sunrise Mass," an unpublished work from Norwegian pianist-composer Ola Gjeilo.

The performance will be directed by Dr. Craig Arnold, an internationally recognized chorale director from New York City, New York.

Accompanying the chorus's will be some of the best string orchestra players from around southeast Michigan.

"These are the best of the best," Card said. "The quality of the string players is going to be exceptional."

Card said the group held fund-raisers in order to pay for Dr. Arnold and the string orchestra players.

He added this performance was worthy of being showcased at Carnegie Hall.

"This is exactly what you would find in Carnegie Hall - professional orchestra, advanced voices, a nationally recognized director. And we have that all on our stage."

Card said "Sunrise Mass" is unique piece of work because of the "sacred liturgical texts" Gjeilo uses.

"Ola (Gjeilo), what he does with it, he uses those words to paint a picture of our environment, our world. He writes his music like it is a film score because it is so visually oriented," Card explained.

"When people hear it, they can picture it easily like a movie because that is exactly how he writes it," Card continued.

"For people who are not used to hearing Latin or Christian music, they are going to be floored by this music because it is going to be cinematic in sound."

He added this was not the typical high school performance.

The group would be performing an eight-part harmony, which Card explained as "eight different tones going on at one time," with men and women splitting into four different parts.

"Normally you are going to see, two, three, four part harmonies in a large work, usually a four-part harmony," he added. "This doubles that."

"For a choir to split into eight pieces is so challenging," he said. "Some of the music is logical and doable, other parts of it are so challenging to hear the harmonies, to have so many parts layored so thickly upon each other."

In order to pull this off, auditions were held to select the best male and female voices from Oxford High School's six performance choirs. Approximately 130 students were selected and began working on "Sunrise Mass" in December.

"Our students...have never worked harder over a short period of time on this," he said.

According to Card, students have come up to him and told him how mentally exhausted they were after rehearsals because they were so engaged in the piece.

"There are students who love it so much, everyday after school they are listening to a recording of it while reading their score," he said. "They are not made to do that, they are not told to do that. They choose to do it. It's just becoming a huge thing."

He added the first half of the program would feature selections from Grand Haven, Rochester College and OHS advanced women's choir Caritas, while the second half will feature "Sunrise Mass."

The show begins on Saturday Feb. 25th at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children. For more information, call (248) 969-5168.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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