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Mastering a Masterpiece

Beethoven Video Image

Beethoven Video Image

Choir tackles Beethoven's Ninth Symphony from many angles

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson; video by Joe O'Neill

Beethoven’s signature Symphony No. 9 in D minor took 29 years to complete, and it was certainly more than worth the wait. Revolutionary, challenging and, by turns, forcefully and achingly moving, Beethoven’s Ninth was the culminating work of a brilliant career, completed near the end of the great composer’s life, when he was nearly deaf. And while some of Beethoven’s contemporaries questioned whether the notoriously stormy composer had lost his sanity while writing “Ode to Joy,” it has gone down in history as a work of pure genius.

In short, it is not a piece to be undertaken lightly—particularly since it requires both an orchestra and about 150 accomplished singers. So as the Dickinson College Choir prepares to present Beethoven’s Ninth this month with a professional orchestra, they call on a team of resident experts to guide them along the way.

Choir Director and Associate Professor of Music Amy Wlodarski taught the music with an eye toward the cultural, historic and musical significance of the work, with assistance from Associate Professor of German Sarah McGaugheywho coached the singers on pronunciation while also providing insight into the meaning and cultural significance of the German text.

“It’s definitely been a liberal-arts experience for me,” said choir member Rachael Smith ’16, a music major who’s clearly thrilled by the opportunity. “I went into choir knowing I would sing music [but] not knowing I would learn German and definitely not knowing I would get a history lesson.”

Biochemistry & molecular biology major Mansoor Ghoto ’15 also enjoyed learning how ideas manifested in some of Beethoven’s previous works helped the composer establish the tune for “Ode to Joy.” Ghoto's appreciation for the work—and for the chance to experience it from the stage, along with a full orchestra and more than 100 other voices—has deepened considerably as his contextual understanding grew.

“The last 100 measures of the fourth movement are the real fire, and those present will neither miss that cue nor will they forget the ending," he said. "I wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world."

The choir will perform the Ninth Symphony along with the Hershey Symphony Orchestra and Hershey Festival Chorus at the Hershey Theatre (15 E. Caracas Ave., Hershey, Penn.) at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 17. Tickets may be purchased through the Hershey Theatre website.

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Published April 15, 2015