A Sea Symphony – singing with the almighty kiwi

Orpheus Choir of Wellington.

By Davy Fogler, U.S. Embassy Wellington.

The Orpheus Choir.As an American living abroad, I am always looking for ways to integrate into the community, and I have always loved singing – so what better way that to join the leading symphonic choir in Wellington! I became a member of The Orpheus Choir of Wellington in July 2015, about four weeks before the presentation of Colossal Chorale which included Poulenc’s Gloria and Bruckner’s Te Deum. The concert was magnificent; utilizing the spacious cavern that is St. James Cathedral to our advantage, Orpheus was indeed mighty – and I knew I had made the right choice. Since then, we have presented a wide range of pieces, ranging from The Lion King at Wellington Zoo to Tarakihi as a limited choir as part of the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo this past February (pictured below). With 150 extremely talented voices, Orpheus is renowned for its eclectic repertoire, and has performed with highly regarded musicians and soloists, both on the local and international stage.

Choir rehearses
Rehearsing the Sea Symphony. Photo: Deborah Gordon

Having only moved to New Zealand in June, and joining such a large group, I half-expected to be lost in the crowd and to take a while to become one with Orpheus – but I was dead wrong. On my first day, I was greeted with 150 smiles and immediately felt like part of the family.  Each person made a point to introduce themselves over the next couple weeks, and my fellow tenors took me under their wings to bring me up to speed for Colossal Chorale. Needless to say, my first few months were a whirlwind of rehearsals, concerts, and more rehearsals – but I quickly found holiday break upon us and with it the end of the Orpheus season. Although thankful for a break, I anxiously awaited the next season  and I am excited that we are kicking off 2016 with a piece that is more than a little bit American.

Orpheus’ first full choir concert of the season, in conjunction with Orchestra Wellington, is a presentation of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony. Based on American poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, “Not only is the piece descriptive of the sea and the daring explorers who chart its waters, but it also uses the sea as a metaphor for a voyage into eternity.” I am simply ecstatic to be a part of this collaboration; what better way for a Yankee to start the choral season than with a beautiful mix of Old and New World. You can learn more about the May 7th concert on the Orpheus website at: orpheuschoir.org.nz.

Every minute of my time with Orpheus has been a blast, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the warm reception received from my fellow Orpheans. If there is anything that my time with Orpheus has taught me, it is that Kiwis are passionate about the arts, and strive to be inclusive to all those who share that passion. As an American in New Zealand, it has been an absolute pleasure to experience a different approach to choral performance, and to perform works ranging from the classics to contemporary works by New Zealand composers.

A Sea Symphony is going to be a night to remember, and if I wasn’t on stage, I would most definitely be sitting front row.

Sea Symphony.