Colby Chorale puts on “Back to the Garden” concert

The Colby College Chorale held a concert Saturday night, Feb. 29, commemorating Woodstock with a collection of songs incorporating themes that relate to the modern time. 

The name of the concert, “Back to the Garden,” comes from a line in one of the last songs in the set, “Woodstock” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The songs covered a sampling of 60’s and 70’s pop to highlight the culture and movements of the time. 

The theme of the night was happy and upbeat. The performers’ festive attire included flowers, headbands, tie dye, flowy skirts, hair styles, and some sunglasses. 

Given Auditorium was packed with a crowd mostly from the Colby community. Director Eric Christopher Perry introduced the concert as very informal, like a rock concert. 

The first song was a singalong, met with enthusiastic audience participation. Fans seemed to know the song, and a few children joined the performers in dancing up front. 

One audience member from Windsor, Alice Chicoine, said, “the show was very good and well put together. I liked a lot of the songs, especially ‘Teach Your Children.’”

The song Chicoine mentioned was a medley of famous Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young songs including “Find the Cost of Freedom” and “Ohio.”

 Singer Tessali Hogan `22 also selected this piece as her favorite, since she had learned about “Ohio” as a protest song in the context of US history. 

“The essential injustice the song expresses, that of peaceful protestors slain, is one that has painful echoes across time to the present. It’s also just a great rock song, and very fun to sing, even combined with that sort of tragic pathos,” Hogan said. 

This concert was meant to apply the messages in the songs to a modern context, reusing the power of movements past. 

Perry pointed out that Woodstock itself brought people together to celebrate peace, love, and optimism in response to the turbulent times. Involving lyrics including themes of civil rights and war protesters, the director points out parallels to that time. 

“It’s a balance of recognition that we have a long way to go for our society to be whole but also celebrating the time we’re in and bringing together all people through music and harmony,” Perry said.  

These “timeless” songs, as Perry described them, were mostly taught by word of mouth. The “Woodstock generation” taught their songs, creating community within the chorale. 

The ensemble only used a few choral arrangements, Perry said, so the harmonies were natural and largely by memory. 

“We were frequently given music with only one melody line, or simply the lyrics, leaving it up to us to learn the material and to harmonize on the spot,” Hogan explained. 

Despite the challenge of learning music in a different way than the classical music the group typically studies, Hogan said, “our energy just kept building until the concert. It was especially amazing to work with the musicians in the band, who were obviously having the time of their lives. I really appreciated their energy.”

A live band made up of guest musicians Jayson Keeton on keyboards, Will Prapestis on bass, and Jay Mobley on guitar, provided an authentic accompaniment. Piano duets, band introductions, jokes and conversation throughout the night contributed to the energy of the performance. 

Perry saw this annual pop performance, with the fullest audience this group has received, as “a musical counterpart to drawing the community together.”

In concert with the arts and humanities theme of energy and exhaustion, Perry expressed that reviving this period of music creates more than just a Woodstock concert – it takes the community of audience, singers, and students “back to the garden” to reflect on the impact of the Woodstock music festival. 

As the Colby College Chorale is in a rebuilding phase, the spring pops concert is designed to draw in a new audience. Another concert in this theme was the ensemble’s Bach All Night performance in November. Their next performance will be a Duruflé requiem, a more classical piece. 

The chorale is a campus and community wide ensemble that fosters a multigenerational musical experience, and is open to new musical members.