Friday, November 1, 2019

The Sound of New Choral Music

By Graeme Olson

The Nazareth High School chorus program has two new groups starting this year, and it is an exciting time of change for those involved.  

There’s now an auditioned all men’s choir, Men of Nazareth, which rehearses every Tuesday and Thursday after school.  It has 13 male vocalists in its first year of existence.  Choral director Mrs. Kelly Rocchi said her inspiration for starting an all men’s choir was that female members also got attention in Nightingales, while male singers didn’t have the same opportunity.  So, she believes having this all male choir will help male and female singers be “on a level playing field.”

However, Men of Nazareth isn’t the only new group starting in the Nazareth choral program this year.  Cantus, an elite choral group with 16 singers, is an auditioned group that rehearses every F Day during Eagle Block.  It is essentially the replacement for Chorale, the former auditioned co-ed group that rehearsed after school.  Chorale had about 30 members, so Cantus is more exclusive, about half that. 

Cantus perform at Lehigh University. Photo Credit: Kelly Rocchi

Cantus is a particularly elite group, as there are only 4 people for each voice part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).  And because Cantus typically only meets on F days during Eagle Block, the students must come to each rehearsal having practiced their music.  How is the new group working so far?  In the words of Mrs. Rocchi, “so far so good.”  She says because the singers in Cantus have proper vocal technique, that helps them despite their limited amount of rehearsal time.  

Liam Condon, a member of Cantus, described Cantus as a “very hard working group of people who truly love what they’re doing.” He emphasized the amount of dedication and involvement it takes to be a member of this group.  Since there’s little rehearsal time, everyone has to be more dedicated to practicing.  Cantus has already done two gigs, one of which was called “Night Lights,” which helped raise money for cancer research.  They also sang at the “Joyful Noise” event in Bethlehem, which was a celebration for the city recovering after Bethlehem Steel closed.  Overall, Liam told me that he thinks Cantus will reach its full potential as the year goes on.  

It should be noted that the other new group, Men of Nazareth, is a very new experience for Mrs. Rocchi and the male singers in the group.  Mrs. Rocchi bought an exercise book called “The Resonant Male Singer” that helps male singers with vocal technique.  She says that teaching male singers is very different from teaching the Nightingales, as male singers have different anatomies and deeper voices. Rocchi has focused on helping the group become more resonant singers, with a forward and clear sound.  Their first big event was Saturday, October 12th, where they participated in the “Men of Song” festival at Penn State with high schools all around the area, with well over 200 singers, including the Penn State glee club.

Men of Nazareth enjoying pie. Photo Credit: Kelly Rocchi

 Now, where did the names “Cantus” and “Men of Nazareth” come from anyway?  Rocchi says that “Cantus” is the Latin word for “sing.”  Since a lot of choral music is in Latin, that definitely makes sense.  

Rocchi considered a few possible names for the all-male group, though, and thought about calling them the “Knights,” as the name sounds similar to the Nightingales.  She made clear that many guy group names are pun-oriented, like Crescedudes, so she decided to go with the more powerful and professional-sounding Men of Nazareth. 

Altogether, there are now 6 different vocal groups at Nazareth.  When asked if managing all of them was stressful, Mrs. Rocchi replied quite simply at first: “Yes!”  However, Rocchi believes it is rewarding, and that her experience of teaching for 15 years has helped her out. 

When there are so many different singing groups, organization is key.  Rocchi emphasized that in smaller groups there’s a heightened sense of responsibility for each member; if someone is screwing up, it’s more easily noticeable, so it makes everyone work a bit harder.  She saw that as a positive, but if a few members of a section are missing from rehearsal, that can be detrimental.  

As for the future of the choral program, Rocchi dreams that one day there could be 40 men in the Men of Nazareth group, just like the Nightingales.  However, she feels that Cantus should be kept at 16 members, as the competition means that hopefuls will work harder on their music in order to get in the group.  

It’s an exciting year of change for the Nazareth choral program.  Both of these groups will contribute well in our concerts and events around the community.

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