Annual Vespers concert debuts “Sounds of the Season” musical piece
Matthew Potterton and the Baker University Vespers program gave the world premier of a Christmas song that has yet to be published during Sunday's performances.
Baker University's 81st Annual Candlelight Vespers debuted “Sounds of the Season”, a musical piece composed by Mark Hayes, who is a Kansas City (Mo.) composer is well known for his unique choral settings which draw from diverse styles such as gospel, jazz, pop, folk and classical to achieve a truly “American sound.” A donation by Susanne Teel, a member of Baker's Board of Trustees, commissioned the work for Vespers.
“We found out that it's going to be published by Shawnee Press,” Potterton said. “That was news that Mark Hayes emailed me about a week and a half ago. It's great to have a commissioned piece be premiered at our event.”
The “Sounds of the Season” musical piece comprised the Baker University concert choir, community choir, orchestra and percussion. The musical number combines various Christmas songs into one piece.
In the eyes of Potterton, Baker University director of choral activities and Vespers director, the Mark Hayes' piece was one of two highlights of the two performances Sunday.
“I was extremely pleased,” Potterton said. “We had several highlights. Probably the largest one was the premier of the new piece that we did. I thought the choirs, orchestra and percussion did a fantastic job on it. I think the audience enjoyed it as well. It was certainly a highlight. The African piece we did was choreographed and I think the audience enjoyed that, too. As I get emails from folks, those are two that stand out as favorites. I had a great time and I enjoyed the different selections.”
Both performances were well attended. The first show completely filled the First United Methodist Church and some visitors were unable to find a seat, so they were forced to leave. The later show nearly filled the church.
The audiences were receptive of both pieces that Potterton credited as the highlights of this year's Vespers. The second highlight was a South African piece titled “Babethandaza.” It involved the concerr choir and percussion ensemble. Kelley Bethell-Smith was the choreographer.
The African musical number is one example of Potterton's twist on Vespers since he took over the event two years ago. He's tried to change the tempo of the music throughout the performance.
“That's my big goal,” he said. “Concerts can lose intensity and momentum by having dead time between groups. So, my biggest goal is for things to keep happening one after the other. That's why we have the audience participating in a couple pieces. While that's happening, people are switching and getting ready for the next thing, while we give the audience a chance to sing. I do strive to keep the pace going as best as I can.”
Another example of that is playing traditional Christmas songs and having the audience sing along with the Baker choir. On Sunday, those songs were “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel.”
“From the feedback I get, I think the audience enjoys it,” Potterton said. “A lot of people comment to me that they enjoy doing it. They don't get to sing Christmas carols as much as they'd like, so this is fun chance to sing in a big group.”
The audience also sang “Silent Night” as the performances concluded. During the song, the Baker students exit the church holding candles, providing the only light in the room.”
“It's a good tradition that was started before I came here,” Potterton said. “I like to do the hymn version and ending it with the violin trailing off. I looked back at the end of the second performance with all of the candles lit and I think it's a beautiful picture.”
While “Silent Night” is sung every year, Potterton tries to keep most of the music new each year. He goes through a process for selecting the musical pieces that is detailed by hard to explain.
“It's hard to answer,” Potterton said. “I have three pieces written down for next year's Vespers already. A couple of them have been on my list since I've been here and I know we're going to put one of them in there. usually find the first one and build on it. For next year, I want to do “Ave Marie”. It's one that a slow, almost chant-like piece. So, now I need something to almost contrast with that.
“It's pieces of a puzzle that once you start plugging in different pieces, you see what types of tempos and songs you have all together,” he said. “It's all about the pacing. I want each song to feed into the next one. There is a little bit of a science to it, but it literally starts with stacks of music and I decide from those piles. Then I narrow that down. That will happen during the next several months and then I'll do it all over again.”