Choirs celebrate Women at Xavier

By Mo Juenger | Staff Writer

The Xavier Choir Department commissioned a choral work to Josh Nelson, an LA-based jazz pianist, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university’s admission of women. The work will premiere on Nov. 16

The Xavier Choir Department commissioned a choral piece, entitled “Over Millenia,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university’s admission of female students.

The piece will be performed by the Concert Choir, Women’s Chorus and Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble (EVE) at their upcoming concert on Nov. 16. This represents the first commissioned piece at Xavier since the Theater Department’s March 2019 production of Oxford Comma, and the first musical commission in years.

The piece, by LA-based composer and jazz pianist Josh Nelson, was commissioned to the Xavier University Music Department. Students noted the uniqueness of Nelson’s jazz style, saying it stands out as a fresh contemporary piece among their traditional classical choral repertoire.

“It’s very different from what we normally sing,” junior music education major and EVE member Julia Jelnick said. “We’re singing jazz harmonies, so it’s really stretching us beyond what we’re used to.”

Lyrics for the piece were written by Prof. Anne McCarty and Dr. Kristen Renzi of the Xavier University English department and Dr. Kathleen Smythe of the history department. Text from the poetry of 19th century Cincinnatian Alice Cary was also incorporated.

The piece is divided into four movements, entitled, “I. To Solitude,” “II. The Woman with the Hungry Eyes,” “III. Fifty Years” and “IV. Courage Over Comfort.”

Students spoke about their close connections to these lyrics, noting their relationship to the city of Cincinnati and the context of the semicentennial anniversary of women’s admittance to Xavier.

Choir members spoke about the subject of their favorite movement, “II. The Woman with the Hungry Eyes.”  The lyrics revolve around silent film star and Cincinnatian Theda Bara.

“She made a career out of silent films, so she made her living off of being silent,” sophomore music education major and EVE member Patrick Hill said. “The piece follows that idea that women should no longer be silenced.”

“One of the lyrics [of Movement II] is, ‘My father taught me to tailor, so I tailored myself,’ and that’s really powerful to me,” sophomore music education major, Women’s Choir member and Concert Choir member CJ Buckles said of her connection to the piece.

Music professor Dr. Ben Chamberlain spoke about the positive effect that the commission has had on the music department as a whole.

“It’s an extraordinary privilege and honor to be part of a commissioning project,” Chamberlain said. “The students have expressed such universal enthusiasm for the opportunity to express music for the first time and be part of its creation, so I think it’s just such a tremendous event for the music and theater department.”

The impact the piece has had on the choir department has been noted among many participating students and faculty, with some expressing a newfound understanding and appreciation for the celebration of women’s admission to the university.

“The reality of that anniversary is that it was not that long ago. It’s still a very new thing, women being here at Xavier,” Hill said. “We can’t forget how recent it was.”