Spring Break was anything but a break for Macalester’s Concert Choir, which gave four performances in seven days as part of its 2018 spring tour. After a performance on campus with Conductor Mike McGaghie’s alma mater, the Harvard Glee Club (on their own spring tour), the 45 Mac students and accompanying adults took off for the East Coast.

The group completes these sort of tours every year, says McGaghie, to help the choir bond personally, and because “our musicianship really skyrockets over that week,” since the students don’t have the regular distractions of campus life. They do have free time together outside their rehearsal and performance schedule, though. This year’s trip included opportunities to explore the city of Baltimore, the many museums in Washington, D.C., and a guided tour of the Civil War Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa.

The latter was a highlight, says McGaghie, especially since the choir’s repertoire includes a piece by virtuoso guitarist, composer, and Macalester alum Jeffrey Van ’63, who joined the tour. The 22-minute piece, called A Procession Winding Around Me, sets to music four Walt Whitman poems written in response to the Civil War. “Just being in that place, standing on that ridge,” says McGaghie, “you see where the Union line was, you see where the Confederate line was, and they just crashed in this valley.”

As McGaghie points out, this is where the educational benefit comes in: “What’s fun for me,” he says, “is being at a liberal arts college, the students are trained to think critically. They can make connections between the music and what they already know, and their other classes.”

After discussing the history of the war and its relation to the music, the students then rehearsed and performed in a local church; before Van’s piece, one of the students, a theater major, recited the Gettysburg address. The effect was moving. “It was the first time in many years I’ve seen an audience give a standing ovation before the end of a concert,” McGaghie says, adding that, “for some students, these will be some of the most important memories they take from college. They certainly were for me.”

The Concert Choir will perform much of the same repertoire at its end-of-semester concert on April 20.

March 19 2018

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