Berkshire Choral International

Recap: Our Final Two Weeks in Sheffield

August 7, 2017

Fellowship. Passion. Brigadoon.

For 35 years, choristers from around the globe have walked the halls of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts to participate in a week of choral immersion at our founding location. This year’s 2017 Sheffield weeks were no different.

Choristers poured into Sheffield on July 9 and 16 to start their weeklong choral adventures! Those in attendance practiced musical artistry, met new friends and reconnected with old ones, and took in the sights of the picturesque Berkshires.

While some marveled at the Berkshire’s verdant scenery, others, like 16-year BCI-goer Joseph Fasel, came to perfect Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. “My wife and I decided to do this [first] week because Mahler’s eighth symphony is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s very difficult to get the forces necessary to do it together and it’s something we had to do.” 

With 300 singers, 100 orchestra members, a children’s choir and eight soloists, BCI performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, best known as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” in splendid style.

The second largest chorus in BCI history performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8

“It’s a wonderful uplifting spiritual moment. It’s about all of us and our souls rising up at the very end. It’s unbelievably moving,” said Frank Nemhauser, BCI’s Music Director. 

Conductor Kent Tritle and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra completed Mahler’s eighth symphony and helped it come alive, bringing members of the audience and choristers alike to tears.

“Kent Tritle is a fabulous conductor and musician and a wonderful, warm, and supportive person. I’ve loved [learning from him] this week,” said Fasel.

Outside of the intensive rehearsals and classes BCI offers alongside our faculty, conductors and apprentices, choristers also visited the Norman Rockwell Museum to perform Take Five, The Wayfaring Stranger, and Another Day of Sun.

Choristers ended the Mahler week in celebration and cheer after such a big undertaking. Steve Dalton, 3-year BCI Chorister, said it had been an exhilarating experience. “There’s really nothing else like this anywhere where amateur trained singers can join together in a short span of time and create glorious musical art,” said Dalton.

Choristers who performed in the Mahler week held the record of being the biggest chorus in our history. For a week.

On July 16, 314 choristers arrived in Sheffield ready to make history as our biggest chorus and final performers at the Sheffield campus. Fittingly, choristers performed the Verdi Requiem conducted by Tom Hall - the first musical composition ever performed by BCI 35 years ago.

For first-time participant and social media contest winner Megan Brown Helm, BCI exceeded all of her expectations.

Megan Brown Helm (pictured in red) socializing with newfound friends at the BCI Verdi week

“This is the best organized festival I’ve ever been to. Every detail seems to have been thought through. There were special touches that I appreciate. Everything is a well-oiled machine, that’s for sure.”

Although Helm is a regular chorus singer, BCI offered her the chance of a lifetime.

"There’s nothing better than singing a really big master work that I don’t have the opportunity to do in the small village where I live, so getting to be on stage with 300 people was very exciting,” Helm said.

Megan was exhilarated by the week and found the Verdi Requiem to challenge her as a vocalist and chorister.  

“[Verdi] is an extremely difficult piece for a chorus…it’s very loud and it’s very quiet, so it really tests your vocal ability and there’s so much artistry in every measure. It’s been great getting to sing with these excellent voices who have prepared the music… to create a really high quality product at the end.”

During both the Mahler and Verdi Sheffield weeks, we were overjoyed to see so many familiar and new faces on campus. And while we were all sad to see the Sheffield weeks come to a close, we are extremely grateful for all the participants who have made Sheffield home in the past 35 years and we look forward to a bright future for BCI as we bring music, passion and people together.

“Singing is the most life affirming thing you can do. It’s the best countervailing force to all the madness that goes on in the world. When people sing together, they have to breathe together. When they breathe together, we create our own little [BCI] world and it’s very lovely.” – Ann Kirschner, BCI Participant since 1991.

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