Choir Brings Classical France to Campus

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All eyes were on the conductor, Nicole Paiement. As her arms went up, so did the pitch of the vocalists, which included 12 sopranos, five baritones, four tenors, two mezzo-sopranos, one contralto and one bass singer. The ensemble’s 10 men dressed in tuxedos with bow ties, while the 14 women wore all black from head to toe.

On Nov. 15, the UC Santa Cruz Chamber Singers performed “Poésie en Musique,” a recital of French music ranging from the late 1400s to 2002. The event took place on campus at the 396-seat Music Center Recital Hall, a building meticulously constructed to efficiently amplify acoustic sound without the need for speakers and microphones.

The small group of 24 members, including UCSC undergraduate and graduate students, sang 17 short melodies from several renowned French composers, including Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Philippe Hersant and Clément Janequin. An organ, piano and a cello accompanied the vocalists. Guest artists included Greta Feeney-Samuels, Michele Rivard, Brian Staufenbiel and Elliott Nguyen. The concert concluded with Janequin’s “Le Chant des Oiseaux,” a song featuring playful imitations of birds.

Among the members is Saskia Lee, a music performance graduate student with an emphasis in stage management. She is a teaching assistant for the UCSC Chamber Singers and sings alto with the ensemble. As the ensemble’s TA, Lee communicates with the performers, organizes rehearsals, helps lead sectionals, books rehearsal and performance space and assists Paiement in running the ensemble smoothly.

One of Lee’s tasks included organizing the performances with Paiement. One of her personal favorites, Hersant’s “Poèmes chinois,” had only been publicly performed three times prior to the Nov. 15 recital.

“[Paiement] and I worked with a lighting designer, UCSC film student Evan Hartney, to create lighting complementing and enhancing each of the eight movements in the Hersant,” Lee said. “The lighting really helped capture the contrasting moods and emotions of each movement.”

The UCSC Chamber Singers began rehearsing the first week of fall quarter and were ready to perform after seven weeks. They rehearsed a total of four to six hours each week.

John Vitale, a third-year music major and member of the UCSC Chamber Singers, said preparing for the concert proved to be challenging.

“Singing in French was really difficult,” Vitale said. “I actually struggled for a while. One of [Paiement’s] friends is actually from Canada and speaks fluent French. I had to sing next to him, which was intimidating.”

Vocal performance majors at UCSC are required to learn basic French, Italian and German. As classically trained singers, they are required to sing in languages they do not speak.

“Despite that, I really loved performing with all the instruments,” Vitale said. “We got to perform with unique instruments like a viola da gamba and an organ. Even performing with all the teachers was really interesting. We got to practice with them, and it was almost like a little bit of a show.”

Alex Clark, a fourth-year psychology major, attended the event to support his friends and fellow Cloud Nine A Cappella members who are also part of the UCSC Chamber Singers.

“I definitely thought [the event] was amazing,” Clark said, “I especially loved the second half because it had all this tension within all of the chords and all of the movement. It was really gripping and almost poignant.”

The UCSC Chamber Singers hold a performance every quarter featuring classical, contemporary and modern music.

“It’s a great showcase of a lot of individuals working together to form a masterful piece that rises and falls,” Clark said.