For its annual spotlight performance, the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus is presenting a lovely solo concert, highlighting the 90-person all-volunteer ensemble.
Throughout the Philharmonic’s regular season, the chorus plays a vital part in bringing classical and modern pieces of music to life as vocal accompaniment to the orchestra. For one night each year though, the ensemble has the opportunity to shine on its own.
Chorusmaster Monica Harper Dekle chooses each year’s spotlight performance theme. This year, two factors played a role in the programming.
“This year, it’s all love songs,” Harper Dekle said. “I was recently married, so I am very much in love. But also, everybody likes to feel good. Everybody likes romantic love feelings. Also, I think with all the hate going on in the world, love is a good message. Especially love through music is something that can maybe help make the world a little bit nicer to be in.”
From musical theater numbers to Billy Joel, Johnny Mercer and old hymns, this year’s programming was stitched together from a multitude of genres and styles, ensuring a showcase of the ensemble’s range and talent. They will handle arrangements of “The Gift of Love,” Seasons of Love,” Love Changes Everything,” “Danny Boy,” and more with minor accompaniment or simply a cappella.
“I think everyone in this city knows Laiken Williams,” Harper Dekle said of the local singer, known on stage as Laiken Love & Fellowship of Love. “She sings in the chorus and we’re featuring her on a James Taylor piece, ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ with the mass chorus backing her up. It’s a really jazzy arrangement. She is just something else. I think the concert might be over after she sings, even though we have a few more to sing. She’s just incredible. It’s worth coming to just hear that one piece.”
For the first time ever, Harper Dekle is going to step aside and allow an intern to lead the chorus through two numbers. Savannah State University senior Tenayah Brown will lead the ensemble through Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” and Thomas Tallis’ “If Ye Love Me.”
Encouraged by her mentor, Savannah State Associate Professor Jacquelyn Hamilton, Brown set up an internship with Harper Dekle to work with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus and the Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church chorus (Harper Dekle is also the director of music and organist at the church). Having limited background or education in conducting, Brown, with Harper Dekle and Hamilton’s guidance, has found a new passion through her internship. She used a video of her conducting the Philharmonic chorus on her application to graduate school at Georgia Southern. She was accepted into the Master of Music in Choral Conducting program. The chorus, having literally watched her grow into the new role, is proud of her accomplishment.
“She’s new, but the chorus has been really generous to her,” Harper Dekle said of Brown. “She’s grown a lot. The chorus thinks it’s fun to sing with her. Her two pieces, we just rehearsed them so much to get her crafted, we’re singing those from memory.
“She didn’t have any conducting experience before Jackie saw some talent in her, and wanted her to try it and asked if I would help her. In the beginning she struggled with just getting the beat pattern. She didn’t have any prior experience. She just needed some guidance. She just lights up when she gets up front of the chorus. I think she’s found that gift inside of her and it’s starting to really blossom, because of her teacher Jackie pushing her that way and encouraging her.”
Comprised largely of Philharmonic donors, the chorus takes pride in presenting top-notch performances each year, and in their lone solo concert, enjoy the opportunity to steal the spotlight.
“This is the only time we sing with ourselves,” Harper Dekle said. “They love it. The chorus takes so much pride in the organization. The chorus members themselves are all volunteer, but they make up a good bit of the donor base of the Philharmonic. No one owns the Philharmonic, but they take a lot of pride and feel like it’s their responsibility to keep the Phil going. To have a moment when all eyes are on them, makes them very proud.
"They keep the Philharmonic going, to tell you the truth. They fight to keep the Philharmonic here. It’s good for them to get attention."
This concert will also be a special one for Harper Dekle, as it will be her final as the Philharmonic's chorusmaster. The organization announced in January that Harper Dekle would resign her part-time position as chorusmaster after this season to focus on her full-time role at Wesley Monumental UMC.