Fall choir concert brings together past and present students once again

Nathan Janzen, Arts and Entertainment Editor

During the first week in October, Viterbo’s campus community celebrated Alumni Week, a series of festivities meant to honor and highlight the work of Viterbo graduates. In addition to the Conservatory’s production of “Footloose,” the Viterbo Concert Choir’s fall concert filled Saturday afternoon. The performance also featured Ninth Street Singers and a chorus of recent and longstanding alumni. 

The concert came almost a year after a similar 50th Anniversary concert filled the Main Theatre. Like its predecessor, the concert—this time in San Damiano Chapel—featured works both old and new. Selections spanned the Baroque through Modern musical periods. Highlights included Thomas Weelkes’ “Hosanna” and Eric Whitacre’s “A Boy and a Girl,” which was performed by the Ninth Street Singers.  

Several spirituals were also on the program. Moses Hogan’s “I’m Gonna Sing ‘Till The Spirit Moves in My Heart” was the first, performed by Concert Choir with first-year Briar Haring as soloist.  The second was “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” performed by Ninth Street Singers. According to alumni, several of whom sang in San Damiano throughout the weekend, that same arrangement (by William Dawson) was a staple of Viterbo Concert Choir tours during their time as students. 

The concert’s final selection was “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” arranged by Hall Johnson. The closer, which featured the alumni chorus, was conducted by Prof. Dan Johnson-Wilmot, who returned to full-time teaching this semester. The closing soloist was recent alum Zane Rader. 

“Ain’t Got Time to Die,” with its lively spirit and improvisation, brought a lively ending to a joyful concert. In preparation for the event, Johson-Wilmot coached the choir in improvisation on the piece’s chord progression. During performance, segments of each voice part either took the melody or harmonized, using strands of lyrics to create an intertwining poetic and musical tapestry. The result was an energetic explosion of praise that carried with it the spirit of Sister Thea Bowman, whose life story was featured in a recent Lumen issue. 

Johnson-Wilmot, whom Bowman called her “little brother,” made sure that the piece’s significance was not lost on a single chorister. The lyrical and melodic improvisation that spirituals can require do not always find their way into modern concerts, but when skillfully directed, the experience is special for both performer and audience. 

For those who missed the concert, a clip featuring Concert Choir’s performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Ave Maria” is available on the Viterbo Music YouTube channel.