Choir to shine a light at GCU -- and Carnegie Hall

The Canyon Choral Society is known for performing large choral works, such as Handel's "Messiah" in December. The choir will take on Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" at its concert Wednesday at First Southern Baptist Church and at Carnegie Hall on April 23. (Photos by Gillian Rea)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

To be a light in the darkness – music, certainly, can be that light, and Grand Canyon University’s Canyon Choral Society will turn on that light for its final concert of the 2017-18 academic year.

The community choir, known for performing large-scale musical works, will tackle Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna,” or “Eternal Light” – the same piece it will perform at 1 p.m. April 23 at Carnegie Hall – at the free-admission concert 7 p.m. Wednesday at First Southern Baptist Church. It’s one of two pieces to be performed. The other is Dan Forrest’s “Jubilate Deo.”

“Both of the pieces that we’re doing are by living composers. … and for both of the pieces, all of the text comes out of biblical text,” College of Fine Arts and Production Assistant Dean Dr. Juan de Dios Hernandez said.

He chose “Lux Aeterna” as a performance piece when he received the invitation to conduct at Carnegie Hall, and he worked the sacred song into Wednesday’s concert, as well.

Juan de Dios Hernandez conducts the choir and Canyon Symphony Orchestra in December.

“It’s a very challenging piece that really features the choir,” Hernandez said. “But, personally, the thing that’s most appealing is the text. All of this text speaks of light in many ways."

He added, “New York is the city of lights, but it’s also a very dark place. And for us, being a Christian university, having the opportunity to perform a Christian piece and be able to give that testimony, even if it’s simply through the music, it’s a great thing. It’s very consistent with our mission of being a Christian university, but simply being a light of the world in a place that can be potentially very dark – to be singing that piece, to me, personally, is very meaningful -- that idea of, obviously, God working it out way in advance. The message speaks greatly to the Christian faith.”

Lauridsen wrote “Lux Aeterna” for the Los Angeles Master Chorale and premiered it in 1997. He said he was inspired by the sacred music of the late Renaissance to “create a quiet, direct and introspective meditation on light, using primarily the constant harmonies, intricate counterpoint, formal procedures and chant-like melodic lines of that era.”

The 27-minute choral work is made up of five connected movements with references to light assembled from various sacred Latin texts. It moves through eight vocal cycles that range from “atonal songs on abstract Lorca poems about time and night to the complex, thorny harmonies of the passionate ‘Madrigali’ to the softer chords and tuneful melodies of Rilke’s ‘Les Chansons des Roses,” Lauridsen wrote in his program notes about the work.

An important part of the composition, too, is the inclusion of text from the Requiem Mass.

“Morten Lauridsen wrote ‘Lux Aeterna’ when his mom was dying. It is kind of a requiem but not exactly. It begins and ends with the text of the Requiem,” Hernandez said.

About 120 vocalists will perform at Carnegie Hall after their concert Wednesday at First Southern Baptist Church.

With the death of GCU student Taylor White recently, Hernandez said, “We would like to think of the student and his family, his fianceé,” as the work is being performed -- Ethington Dance Theatre also dedicated its concert over the weekend to White, whose fiancee, Sarah Tedeschi, is a COFAP dance minor.

White also will be remembered at a Celebration of Life ceremony at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Quad for those in the GCU family we have lost this year. “So as we perform it, it has a special meaning just because of the sort of text and the reflection on yet another short life gone too soon,” Hernandez said.

The second work to be performed, “Jubilate Deo,” means "O Be Joyful in the Lord." The text of the piece is Psalm 100, which starts with the words, “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.”

“It basically speaks of the whole earth joining in singing with joy,” Hernandez said of the piece, which is actually a series of psalms. “The composer said he wanted the different numbers to have a different feel, as if they’re from different ethnic nations, ethnic groups, different types of music. So there’s a Far East movement, one that sounds like an African piece, one like an American traditional anthem, and then he uses seven different languages.”

Some of the languages concert attendees will hear will be Mandarin, Hebrew, English, Latin and Zulu, to name a few.

“He really wanted to give a world feel to it,” Hernandez said of the 45-minute work.

The choir will be accompanied by the Canyon Symphony Orchestra, made up primarily of players from the Arizona Opera but also musicians from GCU faculty.

The concert will be the GCU community’s last chance to see the choir before it leaves April 20 for New York and the much anticipated Carnegie Hall Performance. About 120 GCU vocalists will be joining two other choirs and the New England Symphonic Ensemble on stage.

The Canyon Symphony Orchestra will accompany the Canyon Choral Society.

The music department has been raising funds for months to make the trip possible, and students have arranged to take their finals earlier or later to make this dream performance come true.

 “There’s nothing like it,” Hernandez said of performing at Carnegie Hall – something he has done before. “It’s the best place where the best people in the world perform. In many ways, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity. Oftentimes, people spend their entire career just to do a performance there, so it’s certainly unique for us to be invited, to perform and be part of that experience.

“We’ve been working very hard all year long toward this performance and really toward that trip in particular. It really will be a milestone in the life of the department and the university.”


What: Canyon Choral Society concert

Where: First Southern Baptist Church, 3100 W. Camelback Road

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Admission: Free

You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at 602-639-7901 or by email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


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(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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