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Otterbein University Concert Choir Premiers Two Works

March 3, 2014

Westerville, OH—The Otterbein University Concert Choir will premier two works by music faculty members Dr. Jennifer Merkowitz and Dr. Gayle Walker at a concert at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 9, at the Church of the Messiah United Methodist
, 51 N. State St. The performance is free and open to the public and kicks off the Choir’s annual tour. This year, the Choir will perform at venues in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.

Both Merkowitz and Walker composed these new works while on sabbatical in the fall of 2013, and both based their compositions on poems by Ohio poets. Merkowitz’s Brothers and Sisters is based on the contemporary children’s poetry of Westerville native J. Patrick Lewis, and Walker’s Beyond the Years utilizes the poetry of Dayton native Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906).

According to Merkowitz, she was “drawn to Lewis’ poems about nature, and in particular these three, with their playful and lyrical language.” From a whimsical sun in “Orange Johnson,” to gently hooting owls in “Song of the Sunflower,” the three movements of Brothers and Sisters are a light-hearted celebration of nature. The second movement references Sister Moon and Brother Wind from St. Francis’s Cantical of the Creatures. “As a set, the three movements form a triptych that that reflects the domain of St. Francis, the beloved patron saint of ecology,” explained Merkowitz.

Walker, the director of the Concert Choir, based her composition on three Dunbar poems that describe the inner struggles faced by African-Americans during the last decades of the 19th century. One of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition, Dunbar’s poems reflect a struggle for acceptance. The first movement for flute and chorus, “Sympathy,” begins with the line “I know why the caged bird sings,” and depicts a trapped bird yearning for freedom. The second movement, “The Mask,” is a driving piece that expresses the pain of hiding one’s true self.

The Concert Choir will be joined by the Gahanna Lincoln High School A Cappella Choir, directed by Jeremy Lahman. In addition to Merkowitz’s and Walker’s compositions, the choirs will also perform works by Carol Barnett, Stacey Gibbs and Morten Lauridson.

The Concert Choir is the most select of Otterbein University’s seven vocal ensembles. Most of its 43 members are Music majors who study voice privately. The Concert Choir tours annually to destinations both domestic and abroad. Recent itineraries have included New Orleans in 2013, Philadelphia in 2012; China in 2011; Charleston in 2010; Chicago in 2009; and France and Switzerland in 2006. The choir has performed at prestigious locations such as the Beijing Conservatory of Music, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna and St. Nicholas Church in Prague. The ensemble frequently performs at professional conferences, including conferences of the American Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Educators Association.

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