The Conservatory Choir presents the U.S. premiere of “The Gun Mass” during the Shenandoah Sings concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in Armstrong Concert Hall. The new choral work features music by Jamie Powe and text by Haley Hodges ’16 (Master of Music in Performance) that laments those who have perished in American school shootings. As an expression of deep mourning, the piece is a liturgical and artistic response to hatred and violence, and a human response to shattering loss of life. Choral Artist-in-Residence and Director of Conservatory Choir Austin Thorpe, Ph.D., directs the ensemble which features soprano Rachel Balbi ’23 (Master of Music in Performance) and tenor Drew Young ’23 (Master of Music in Conducting) as soloists.
Powe’s composition and the mass structure — set for soprano, alto, tenor and bass (SATB) double choir and soloists — was inspired by Hodges’ work. “I have always admired Haley’s poetry, so when she approached me about setting one of her poems, I was delighted,” said Powe. “I could immediately hear the music in her words; the use of a mass framework was very attractive and allowed me to draw on a long tradition of choral writing to bring her evocative poetry to musical life.”
Hodges’ hope was that by raising her words to music, the work “might speak more profoundly.” Hodges’ furthers: “To leap too quickly from lament to hope without giving grief the space it requires is a deeply serious failure — one that falsely diminishes the agonies of the sufferer. While ‘The Gun Mass’ offers no answers to the problem of the gun violence epidemic, it is my sincere hope that it may help build a bridge to the right questions.”
“The Gun Mass” has engaged international audiences. The world premiere was presented by the Arcadian Singers under the direction of Powe last month at Somerville College Chapel at the University of Oxford in England. The recording and score will be exhibited at Saint Andrew’s Divinity School in Scotland beginning April 14, the same day as the American premiere at Shenandoah Conservatory.
The Conservatory Choir’s presentation of “The Gun Mass” is presented as part of Shenandoah Sings, the spring choral ensembles concert also featuring the Shenandoah Chorus, under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music Education (Choral Emphasis) Hillary Ridgley, Ph.D., and Shenandoah Voices, led by Senior Associate Dean, Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, Charlotte A. & Verne E. Collins Endowed Professorship and Professor of Music Education Jeffrey Marlatt, Ph.D.
Tickets for Shenandoah Sings are $14 for general admission; $12 for senior citizens, Shenandoah University alumni and civil servants/veterans; and $5 for students and youth. Tickets and information are available at the Shenandoah Conservatory Box Office at (540) 665-4569, located in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre and online at conservatoryperforms.org.