Schola Reminiscences

By Lindsay A. J. Lafford, L.H.D,
Professor of Music Emeritus

The Schola Cantorum, founded in 1940, was a blending of the voices of  both Hobart  and William Smith Colleges, following years of separate groups in separate colleges.  The fortunate uniting of the two institutions made it possible to establish a chorus fulfilling the dictum delivered by some anonymous sage: "God made it a mixed choir."

During my 20-year directorship of Schola, from 1948 to 1968, I adopted a goal of introducing the student-singers to as many of the great works of music literature as we could manage to perform -- even though, frequently, it meant stretching our resources to the limit.  Whenever possible, we used student soloists. We got to know such masterpieces as the Beethoven Ninth Symphony; the Mozart Brahms, and Fauré Requiems; Handel's Messiah and Ode for St. Ceclia's Day; Haydn's Creation; and Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise. Elgar was represented by The Music Makers, together with Vaughan Williams' In Windsor Forest. With the cooperation of Oxford University Press in New York, we were able to launch several world or U.S. premières of works by leading British composers, including pieces by Gustav Holst, Harold Darke, and Gordon Jacob. (We first performed Jacob's New-Born King in Trinity Church, Geneva, and his Highways in 1958 in New York's Town Hall, with piano, and in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with the New Jersey Symphony. Actually we previewed some of it in Hancock, New York, where one of the buses broke down.)

There were U.S. Premières of two works by Sir. Geroge Dyson: In Honour of the City, at another of our Town Hall concerts, and The Canterbury Pilgrims, performed in the Geneva High School auditorium and, two days later, at the University of Rochester (to the plaudits of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's music critic, Norman Nairn). Sir George, at that time director of London's Royal College of Music, noting that I had also conducted the Far Eastern premières of both works with the Hong Kong Singers and Philharmonic, suggested: "Why don't you put your forces on a boat and perform the Pilgrims in South America, the only continent on which it has not yet appeared?" Dyson's son, Freeman, the noted physicist, was on the faculty at Cornell and attended the Geneva performance accompanied by his Swiss wife, who, he told me, "was hearing father-in-law's music for the first time."

One of our most exciting presentations was that of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana in 1961, with which we coupled Constant Lambert's Rio Grande. We had substantial assistance from the Rochester Philharmonic and the Eastman Orchestra (which we enjoyed also for most of the other large works) and, on this occasion, as demanded by the Orff and the Lambert, the entire battery of the Ithaca College Conservatory. This concert was one of the last held in the old Williams Gym, and such was the press of the audience coming in that we had to delay the start by half an hour while members of the chorus went out to round up every additional chair we could squeeze in -- eventually filling up the overhead running track.

Schola enjoyed several spring tours, particularly when singing Charles Wood's St. Mark Passion, which we all got to know very well. We sang twice in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, once in St. Thomas' Fifth Avenue, and once in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In 1955, accepting an invitation to provide the Easter Dawn music for New York's Metropolitan Federation of Churches, we found ourselves standing on the stage of the Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center early one Easter morning, the gigantic Easter set behind us, 7,000 eager faces in front of us, and a million listening ears coast-to-coast on the National Broadcasting Network. The Rockettes, alas, were not in evidence, presumably resting up from the previous night's performance. Nonetheless it was quite an experience.

The Chapel Choir, a smaller unit with membership drawn from Schola, made many singing visits to communities from Syracuse to Buffalo and Bradford, Pennsylvania, and also to a suburb of Toronto, Canada. One of its most memorable triumphs was providing music for 12 Sundays of the Episcopal Series of the Protestant Hour in 1965, a religious program broadcast over 600 FM stations and the worldwide Armed Forces Network. The sponsors told us that the programs would be heard even by the crews of nuclear submarines lurking under the icecap at the North Pole.

Did we all have fun? I know I did. From time to time I hear former members recalling with pleasure some of the performances in which they participated and expressing their appreciation for the literature to which they were introduced, the love of singing they developed and the central place music has had in their lives. This, let me tell you, is a heartwarming reward!

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