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Elite Choral Fellows Perform As They Prepare To Bid Director Adieu

Choral Fellows

By Josiah P. Child, Contributing Writer

University Organist and Choirmaster Murray Forbes Somerville calls them “the best and brightest” of Harvard’s vocalists. Culled from the Harvard University Choir, the Choral Fellows are 12 of Harvard’s elect singers, who have performed at events such as an Academy of Arts and Sciences awards ceremony and the 2001 opening game in Fenway Park.

This weekend, the Fellows will sing a number of madrigals in both English and Italian, taken from the Fellows’s usual repertoire. The canticles of Ned Rorem, a composer who has set much poetry and literature to music, will round out the performance.

This year, much of the music world is joining to celebrate Rorem’s 80th birthday, Somerville says. Just a week after their Arts First performance, the group will record a compact disk of Rorem’s choral works.

“Much of it hasn’t been recorded commercially,” Somerville says.

In late May and early June, the Choral Fellows will sing at the Spoleto festival in Charleston for their annual tour. Their program then will include these pieces by Rorem.

Unlike most singers in a cappella groups on campus, the Choral Fellows enjoy many special benefits. If accepted to the Fellows after spring auditions, singers earn one-year appointments with the option to renew their place, and for that year receive stipends and free voice lessons.

So attractive are these benefits, said Somerville, that the program is “starting to act as a recruiting mechanism” for accomplished singers trying to decide between a liberal-arts education at Harvard or training at a conservatory.

Benefits only come in return for performances, though, and these are many: the group sings the daily service in Memorial Church, Monday through Friday, and leads the University Choir in its concerts, in addition to its annual tour and CD recordings.

Since Somerville introduced the program into the choir two years ago, when it evolved out of the morning choir to become an “in-house classical-style a cappella group,” with the typical twelve-member size, the Choral Fellows have been a regular feature at Arts First, and one of the most professional.

“Many of them are very fine soloists in their own right,” singing in opera and other commercial productions, said Somerville. But that never detracts from their effectiveness with one another, he added.

“They make a wonderful ensemble together.”

This will also be the last year the Choral Fellows will spend under his guidance. Somerville will soon move on to become the director of music at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville. He has spent 13 years involved in Harvard music.

Anna Engstrom ’03, one of the Choral Fellows’ co-secretaries, says the group is well aware that the Arts First concert is one of the last performances of the year with Murray conducting, and that they were all indebted to Somerville for “providing us with opportunities for recording and being able to become more renowned.”

—The Choral Fellows will perform in Adolphus Busch Hall, 29 Kirkland St., on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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