Saturday, Nov. 12, community members of the College of William and Mary and the Williamsburg area gathered in front of the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, forming a line extending past the dark churchyard and down the cobbled street of Colonial Williamsburg. They waited in anticipation of the College’s Barksdale Treble Chorus and the Botetourt Chamber Singers choirs to perform in their annual candlelight concert at the church.
As the crowd filled the church room, coordinators lit the chandelier and raised it to the ceiling. Beams of light illuminated the golden façade of the pipe organ, setting the scene for the choirs to perform. The church doors closed at 8 p.m., and the concert began, music soon filling the crowded church.
The Botetourt Chamber Singers opened the concert with “O Radiant Dawn” by James MacMillan. Reflecting on their performance, Vice President of the Botetourt Singers Katherine Beale ’25 acknowledged the choir’s newest piece of added repertoire by Caroline Shaw, describing the advanced and difficult nature of Shaw’s composition.
“It took a lot of rehearsal,” Beale said. “It’s in eight parts the entire time because it’s a two-choir piece, so we were divided up more than we usually are on any piece. That was definitely a challenge, but I’m really proud of everyone because I think we met it head-on.”
Guest conductor Dr. Daniel Parks led the choirs throughout the concert. He gave the starting pitch to the ensembles and directed the pieces. However, his role is much more extensive in the classroom as the ensembles prepare for their concerts throughout the year. Parks mentioned the excitement of performing in a concert and emphasized the importance and value of the rehearsal process to the choral ensembles at the College.
“I would say my favorite thing is rehearsal,” Parks said. “I love being in rehearsal with the ensembles and the students in them.”
Parks detailed his job as a conductor, explaining that his role includes choosing a balanced set list, and interpreting the music, while also incorporating teamwork and building community within the choral ensembles.
“I hope everyone takes away from hearing the William and Mary choral ensembles, beyond any song that we’re singing, the inspiration of seeing young artists discovering their voices, learning about music, and building that community that comes from singing together,” Parks said.
Parks explained the range of modern and ancient languages the choirs learned how to sing. The Barksdale Treble Chorus sang in English, Spanish and Latin. Likewise, the Botetourt Singers sang in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Latin. Parks said that he prioritizes selecting music that showcases the versatility of the choirs.
Furthermore, Parks detailed his personal priority in performing music that showcases composers from traditionally underrepresented groups. He said that music in the Spanish language has been historically pushed aside in America, and he works to counteract that as a conductor in choosing a variety of music.
“The Spanish language is a major language in the United States,” Parks said. “Music that’s in Spanish from composers all over the world is something that is often overlooked in choral ensembles in the United States. So, performing great music that’s in Spanish is a priority that I have. I’m prioritizing pieces that are written by women composers and people of color.”
Attendee Dr. Tiffany Hardy ’95 recounted her experience as a member of the audience and mentioned Parks’ selections as well as the versatility of the musicians.
“I loved how the director selected a variety of pieces that really showcased the different depths of the voices,” Hardy said. “So even though they were connected by common themes, there was a significant variety in tempo and sound.”
The Barksdale Treble Chorus was featured in the second half of the concert. They began their set with “Rise Up My Love,” by Eleanor Daley and moved through their set as chorus members were featured as soloists and percussionists. The final song featured Hardy’s daughter, Victoria Sanzo-Hardy ’23 as soprano soloist on the song “Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo.
Hardy was moved by the coming together of the College community at this concert. She recounted her favorite moments of the evening and the pride she felt as a mom.
“The pride you hear in their voices when they sing the alma mater is phenomenal,” Hardy said. “And it just makes me very proud to see the tradition continue in such an exemplary fashion.”
The audience joined both ensembles in singing the College’s “Alma Mater” with pride, and the evening ended with sustained and joyful applause from the audience.