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Groups explore and impress as concert season opens


In their opening concert of the 2012-13 season, the Fort Hays State University wind ensemble, concert choir and Fort Hays Singers shared a sampling of folk music, dances and an intricate nocturne, giving audience members a taste of what lies ahead for the groups.

From the bombastic Strauss "Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic" to the homespun fun of Percy Aldridge Grainger's "Shepherd's Hey," the wind ensemble showed dexterity as they explored a variety of music styles.

A relatively new creation written by David Dzubay in 2007, "Nocturne" brought a breath of summer night to the chilly October evening. Building anticipation throughout the song the woodwind harmonies swelled, giving audience a moment to pause and remember nights with open windows and cricket songs.

The five short English Renaissance dances "Color" by Bob Margolis were tasty as a Whitman Sampler, but left me wishing for a bigger box of chocolates. Each selection brought a brief glimpse into the composer's mind, then quickly disappeared.

"Folk Dances" by Dmitri Shostakovich, with its woodwind trills and oompa brass was an exuberant celebration. Equally exuberant was Jeff Jordan's conducting, punctuated by a few of his own dance steps and an obvious delight in the Shostakovich's collection of native Russian dance tunes.

"Shostakovich" ... just saying his name out loud is fun.

FHSU vocalists gave audience members a double-take with their performance selections, as separate arrangements of each folk, spiritual and gospel tune were performed back-to-back by the concert choir and Fort Hays Singers.

It was the music that seems woven into our DNA, conjuring images of 19th century coal miners climbing an emerald valley or American immigrants humming their treasured tunes to a new generation.

And the Fort Hays Singers and concert choir did not disappoint in their presentation of the folk tunes.

Opening with "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," the Fort Hays Singers lent a near-haunting quality to the open harmonies of George Lynn's arrangement, leaving the listener with the odd feeling that something was left unsung.

Strangely enough, that unsung element seemed to be furnished when the concert choir picked up with a Stuart Churchill arrangement of the same tune. That haunting void seemed filled with a delicate blend of voices.

But, of course, for me, the highlight of the evening was to hear back-to-back versions of "Danny Boy." I seem unable to resist any adaptation of the old Irish tune, and can be reduced to tears just seeing it printed on a program.

I've always been partial to hearing a misty-eyed tenor rendition of "Danny Boy," but light seemed to shine through the treble voices of the Fort Hays Singers, leaving one collective sigh from the audience when its last note was sung.

Although she was left behind throughout most of the a capella evening, relegated to the task of parceling out pitches, accompanist Pam McGowen showed her chops during the concert choir's final number "I Can Feel the Spirit." She rocked the chunky gospel chords, while the choir relaxed their concert-worn faces and smiled and moved and enjoyed the escape that sometimes only gospel can provide.

Dawne Leiker is a reporter for The Hays Daily News.