The Rogue Valley Chorale Association will perform “Carmina Burana” at Grizzly Peak Winery on June 11-13.
ASHLAND – Try singing “Happy Birthday” with a group of friends on Zoom – “it’s a cacophony you won’t believe,” said Michael Morris, artistic director of the Rogue Valley Chorale Association.
When the pandemic interrupted the choir’s program in March 2020, Morris saw many arts organizations turn to virtual formats to train and perform. But a Zoom chorus is somewhat oxymoronic – technical latency tends to generate a mixture of jarring noise.
“It’s so much work and quite expensive, and the product in the end is satisfactory for three minutes and off you go,” Morris said. “I just made the decision that we weren’t going to do this – other directors made the same decision.”
As virtual options improved, Southern Oregon PBS allowed the chorale to make an hour-long episode available on PBS’s national streaming service over Christmas. In February, the chorale began hybrid rehearsals, with eight physically distanced singers in the hall representing 87 other singers behind screens with muted microphones.
“I knew we couldn’t do this project if we just rehearsed online,” Morris said.
Returning from their postponement of 2020, the chorale will bring back “Carmina Burana,” written by Carl Orff, on stage on June 11 and 13 with performances at Grizzly Peak Winery.
Attendance is limited to 400 people per performance due to the limited number of parking spaces. Chairs, wine, and concessions will be available – members of the public are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket and a meal.
The performance features 99 singers from four choirs and a professional 42-member orchestra, with large brass and percussion sections. A selection of the show’s 25 movements will feature children’s and youth choirs from the choir, including elementary, middle and high school students.
During rehearsals, the singers rotated weekly as the in-person team grew from eight to 22 performers, soloists and section leaders. The first week of May, the whole choir rehearsed together outside for the first time since March 2020.
“Everyone could finally sing together again,” Morris said. “The second benefit was that this is how we perform it, so it got them used to having to listen to each other and sing in this big open space. … The choir was able to maintain a sense of purpose and a sense of development.
Written at the end of the 1930s, “Carmina Burana” is one of the most performed choral compositions of the 20th century. Much of the music will be recognized by audiences, and every choral enthusiast wants to sing this piece – “an opera in the form of a cantata,” Morris said.
Very dramatic and lyrical, the composition is based on a collection of secular poems from the 11th to the 13th centuries, interwoven in a script written in Middle High German. The story is based on the social influence of the Roman goddess Fortuna.
“When something bad happened they would say, ‘Goddess Fortuna has spun the wheel and I’m having a bad year,’” Morris explained.
The music centers on motifs of love and lost love, fate and seasonality. The first and last movements of the piece are the same, adding to the spinning wheel theme in this “painting of tone,” he said.
Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at [email protected] or 541-776-4497.