April 28, 2008

Singers, musicians join forces for 'Carmina Burana'

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — They didn't have Facebook on which to document their indiscretions and they didn't have YouTube on which to display them. What they had was vellum and ink, education, imagination and wicked wit.

And even if it sounds unfamiliar by name, chances are many people have heard the result.

The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Concert Choir, Choral Union and Wind Ensemble present Carl Orff's Carmina Burana in concert beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, in Shryock Auditorium. Tickets for the SIUC performance are $7.50 for general admission and $5 for students.

The Carmina Burana opens and closes with "O Fortuna," a grand Latin-language number that has lent its majestically eerie aura to such movie soundtracks as John Boorman's "Excalibur," Oliver Stone's "The Doors" and "Natural Born Killers," and advertising campaigns including Nescafé, Capital One credit cards and Old Spice cologne. It's even been featured on South Park.

So, what is it? The Carmina Burana is a collection of poems written by a disreputable group of wandering scholars known in medieval Western Europe as the Goliards. In the days when education and religion went hand and hand, these students were the pot-stirrers, the pranksters, the drinkers, the gamblers and somehow, also, in at least a few cases, the ones inspired by creative genius. While it's true they warped the then-familiar themes of the Latin Mass to their own bawdy or satirical means and then lyrically lamented the results of their own bad behavior, they also breathed new life into the Latin language and used it to celebrate springtime and love and laughter.

The Carl Orff arrangement captures it all with a strong, exuberant chorus and a pounding rhythm interspersed with ominous and subdued sections. Within the first three minutes of the hour long concert, listeners are sure to be transported to a movie-set Middle Ages made magnificent as the music enhances the imagination.

For the performers, it is a test of endurance to keep up with this demanding production. The choir will sing in vernacular Latin and Middle German, both of which are new to them. Another bit of novelty is that this is the first time the three ensembles will perform together under one direction. The groups have practiced separately, but have only a limited time to rehearse together on the Shryock Auditorium stage before the May 1 concert.

Christopher Morehouse, assistant professor and the Wind Ensemble director, pointed out the "'O Fortuna,' the opening song, is often used as background music in commercials and movie trailers and is instantly recognizable. Some in the audience will know this before the concert, but many will be surprised that this music was originally part of the Carmina Burana."

Featured soloists for this performance are alumnus Eric McCluskey, tenor/baritone, and Jeanine Wagner, soprano, and interim director of the School of Music. Susan Davenport, director of choral activities and an assistant professor of music at SIUC, directs the performance.

To hear selections from the Carmina Burana, though not performed by our SIUC ensembles, go to the National Public Radio Web site and check out "The Lasting Appeal of Orff's 'Carmina Burana,'" at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6471891.

Tickets are available in advance at the SIU Arena ticket office or the SIUC Student Center ticket office, at Shryock Auditorium, or through TicketMaster. Tickets are also available at the door beginning one hour prior to the event.