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Members of the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club on Ho Plaza.

Headed to Carnegie Hall:
Chorus, Glee Club to perform professor Roberto Sierra's 'Cantares'

When Meghan Burns '13 and Patrick Chamberlain '13 heard that 2015 would be the university's sesquicentennial year, they knew that the groups closest to their hearts needed to play a big role in the party.

In 2011 they started the process of commissioning a large-scale choral work to be sung by the Cornell University Glee Club and Cornell Chorus, even though they knew that by the time it was finished, they would no longer be the presidents of those groups. In fact, they'd be long gone from campus.

Luckily for current students – and alumni and concertgoers – that commission, by Grammy-nominated Cornell professor Roberto Sierra, will be performed this spring at Carnegie Hall to mark the university's 150th birthday.

professor Roberto Sierra

Professor Roberto Sierra will see his choral piece, written for the university's sesquicentennial, performed at NYC's Carnegie Hall April 19. See larger image

"The musical tradition at Cornell is long and rich, from school songs that date back to the university's founding to our continued dedication to choral music today," Burns says. "The Sierra piece pays homage to this tradition, but also provides something new and exciting to contribute to the future of the program at Cornell, and to choral music at large."

As he wrote the piece, Sierra, who is from Puerto Rico, was influenced by Latin American culture and history, as well as his work in the classroom with Cornell students. "Cantares" is written in three languages: Spanish, Qechua and Lucumí, an Afro-Cuban dialect.

"The piece reflects my view of the world we live in, an interesting and changing world," Sierra says. "As I research Latin American music to prepare for a class, I'll often be inspired and interested to think about how I might use this when I'm composing."

Robert Isaacs, Cornell's Priscilla E. Browning Director of Choral Music, has only seen the piece in draft form, but he says his groups are ready to tackle it, with no worries about mastering the pronunciation involved in three languages.

"It's evocative, rhythmic and engaging, even hypnotic in some places," Isaacs says. "It's wonderful that we can use the occasion of the sesquicentennial to make this piece happen."

page from choral piece

A page from professor Roberto Sierra's choral piece "Cantares." See larger image

The Chorus and Glee Club, which include about 60 members each, are entirely student-run and have a long history at Cornell. The all-male Glee Club was founded in the fall of 1868, just months after the university opened its doors. Since 1995, the Glee Club has annually commissioned a new piece for male voices. The all-female Chorus was founded in 1921 and also does annual commissions, mostly of new works by women composers. Both groups tour domestically and internationally, produce recordings, and attend competitions and festivals.

"Chorus and Glee Club members come from all majors and backgrounds; they are an incredibly diverse bunch," says Sara Birmingham '15, Cornell Chorus president. "My whole Cornell experience has been shaped by the people I've met through this musical community. When people can put aside school and stress and prioritize music together, it's amazing."

With a busy fall season of concerts, the group won't begin to rehearse the Sierra piece until after the new year, Isaacs says. Students will lead small section rehearsals, the groups will practice together with Isaacs, and then they'll travel to New York City a couple of days before the concert to rehearse with the American Symphony Orchestra. The groups will be featured prominently in the April 19 concert, "Music U," which includes the Sierra commission along with chorally centered pieces by American composers Horatio Parker and Randall Thompson.

Chorus and Glee Club members say a loyal group of alumni deserve much of the credit for their success.

"Glee Clubbers have the unique opportunity to connect with alumni on a very personal level," says Jacob Cohen '16, Glee Club president. "The age-old tradition of the Cornell songs make it possible for alumni who graduated over half a century ago to come back to campus and join the current Glee Club in song."

Visit americansymphony.org/music-u for more information and for ticket availability.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Links:

April 19 concert program: americansymphony.org/music-u

Cornell University Chorus: www.cuchorus.com

Cornell University Glee Club: www.gleeclub.com

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