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By Amanda Gray | South Bend Tribune | May 19, 2016

Although most of the South Bend Chamber Singers’ concerts are of a serious nature, the ensemble will soon take some time to monkey around.

Seriously, their next concert is going to the dogs.

“Choral Creatures: Music Devoted to All Animals, Great and Small,” takes a fun look at the animal kingdom through song, conductor and executive director Nancy Menk says. The concert takes place Sunday at Church of the Savior in South Bend and again in August at Potawatomi Park as part of the Community Foundation’s ArtsEverywhere initiative. The Notre Dame Children’s Choir will join the Chamber Singers as special guests.

“We usually do more serious concerts, but every couple of years, we like to do a concert with a lighter theme,” Menk says. “It’s a way to have fun.”

She points to their 2013 concert with weather theme as a past example.

“I keep a file folder for potential concert themes, and I thought this would be good for our season that has a lot of other serious performances,” she says.

Still, although the concert theme may be fun, it’s not easy. The pieces are challenging, Menk says, and include the world premiere of a piece from American composer Paul Carey, commissioned by the choirs. Carey set seven poems from French poet Carmen Bernos de Gasztold’s “Prayers from the Ark,” where the poet imagined what the prayers from Noah and six of the animal passengers said to God during their voyage.

Because this is the group’s first collaboration with the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, Menk says it was fitting to mark the event with a co-commissioned piece. They looked for someone who could write good music for both adult and children’s voices, and, having worked with Carey in the past, Menk says he was a great choice.

“It’s good for the kids to see that singing in choir can be a lifelong endeavor,” Menk says. “Hopefully, we can be good role models. It’s a thrill to be a part of a performance piece for its first time. I’ve done it many times, and it’s always a thrill.”

Carey says he met Menk at the Potowatomi Zoo in August to walk around and get inspiration. He originally thought to do a bunch of the zoo animals from the nearly 50 poems in the collection, but instead found himself drawn to the less exotic creatures, such as cats, ducks and pigs, among others.

“I wanted to have a mixture of voices,” he says of the commissioned piece. “Some of the songs feature the adults only, or the children only, and a mixture. I wanted to have that camaraderie. When someone commissions a piece, I do my best to make it interesting, to make it personal.”

Carey says American music styles are a big influence in his work. You’ll hear jazz elements in the cat’s prayer. The bear’s prayer, sung by the adults, is “pretty much blues.” In two or three of the seven songs, you might here some animal noises, but Carey says he didn’t want to overdo it.

One interesting fact: the cat poem has been set to music at least twice prior, Carey says. He knew of one of the recordings, but purposefully didn’t go back to listen to it before writing his own, so as not to be influenced.

“It was a chance for both of us (Menk and himself) to have some fun,” he says about the project. “Sometimes classical music gets accused of being too serious.”

Several of the animals mentioned in the concert’s songs can be found at South Bend’s Potawatomi Zoo. Narration for the event will be provided by Potawatomi Zoo curator Joshua Sisk, who says he’s happy to lend his voice to a community event.

“With this being a community zoo, we are really trying to look for ways to get out to the community,” he says. “When they asked, it wasn’t even a thought. I was just honored to be asked.”

Beyond the world premiere of the Carey pieces, the concert selection includes a number of other pieces, including Eric Whitacre’s “Animal Crackers,” another fun piece for the children’s choir, Menk says.

“The music is very clever,” she says.

In concert

• Who: “Choral Creatures: Music Devoted to All Animals, Great and Small,” a concert by the South Bend Chamber Singers, with the Notre Dame Children’s Choir

• When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

• Where: Church of the Savior, 1855 N. Hickory Road, South Bend

• Cost: $16-$6

• For more information: Call 574-284-4626 or visit moreaucenter.com. The concert will be reprised at 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at Potawatomi Park, as part of the Community Foundation’s ArtsEverywhere initiative.

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