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NU Chamber Choir debuts ‘Rosa’

The collaborative composition of Rosa Parks between local composer Mark Vance and the Nevada Union Chamber Choir will be performed at the annual Spring Concerts Tuesday May 23rd and Thursday May 25th 7pm at the Don Baggett Theatre at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley as well as the Chamber Choir Dessert Concert on Friday June 2, 7 p.m. at the Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley.

“Rosa”, the first piece ever to be commissioned by the Nevada Union Choral Boosters, explores the controversial yet prudent issue of civil rights honoring the late Rosa Parks.

The annual scholarships totaling near $5000, will be presented on Thursday evening to both graduating seniors who are planning on studying music in college and NU choir alumni who are majoring in music. This year there are 7 recipients – 4 seniors and 3 alumni.



Advanced purchased of tickets is recommended as this event usually sells out. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from 6:00 to 8:00 pm Mondays and Wednesdays.

From the founding of our country to the present, black Americans have been oppressed. It wasn’t up until the 1950’s era, however, that change for them began. It started with a woman named Rosa Parks, an average black citizen among the rest of her race. What caused her life to change gears? What did she do that many of black citizens couldn’t comprehend doing? What she did took courage and self-confidence to not give up her seat on the bus. And so began many other events to come that involved the black race to stand up for themselves. From demonstrations to riots to the Montgomery Bus Boycott on December 1, 1955, all were testimony to the power of the Civil Rights Movement.




This year, thanks to Mr. Mark Vance, the Nevada Union Chamber Choir will be expressing the Civil Rights Movement through singing and narration. The piece of music he has chosen is not only spiritual, but contemporary as well, which signifies the hardships that were endured by black Americans. The song’s ending, smooth, simple and calming, is meant to inspire everyone to keep the faith that “peace will be comin’ soon”.

Our teachers tell us that all great art is universal in that it transcends its specific time and content. As high school students, however, it is easy to feel that we lack the life-experiences that produce “great” literature or art or, short of that, simply to affect other people in a meaningful way. Recently, however, I have begun to feel I am a part of something universal”through the Nevada Union choir program.

The Nevada Union choir program involves some 500 students in seven different choirs. One of these choirs, Chamber choir, performs often around the community and at annual functions such as the Madrigal Dinner and the Dessert Concert, in addition to the Nevada Union Winter and Spring concerts. Chamber choir is the smallest and most advanced group, comprised of 33 singers who meet at 6:30 every morning to learn and refine a variety of music, from 14th century Madrigals to Paul McCartney tunes.

This year, the Nevada Union Choir Boosters, the club that funds and runs the choir program, allocated some of its tightly stretched funds to commission local composer Mark Vance to compose a piece for chamber choir.

Working with a musician like Mr. Vance is a thrilling process for the chamber students. We saw the music take shape, first in chunks of sound and ideas, similar to separate paragraphs of an essay not yet formed, then gradually, through many revisions, into a woven and polished piece of art.

In addition to presenting his music to us, Mr. Vance also incorporated the Chamber students into writing the lyrics for the piece. He told us he wanted the piece to be about the American civil rights movement. We brainstormed and came up with key themes extending from Rosa Parks and her famous bus ride and the ensuing bus boycotts, and including influential Supreme Court decisions such as the 1896 “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v Ferguson.

As the piece developed, we saw our ideas take shape, with music to accompany each group of ideas. The piece has several sections with ideas and emotions ranging from an ethereal tribute to Rosa Parks to a riotous section devoted to the bus boycotts. All of the sections are woven with a spiritual melody that ties the song together.

As I anticipate performing the piece, I cannot help but reflect that this piece carries with it not only an inspiring experience for a group of students, but perhaps more. Civil rights issues pervade today’s world, from questions posed by immigration issues to voting rights, religious rights, and many more. Outside of the US there are many and possibly more dire issues of civil and human rights.

As Chamber Choir members, we feel grateful to be involved in the creation of Mr. Vance’s piece and proud to give voice to a truly transcendent piece of art.

This year, the chamber choir at Nevada Union High School will be rehearsing and performing a choral piece written by one of our local composers, Mark Vance. The chamber choir has sung many of his pieces from years past including “Downshift,” “Days of Our Choir,” and “Ave Maria.”

This year’s piece is unique, since it is the first piece to be commissioned by the Nevada Union Choral Boosters. The text of the piece also explores the controversial, but prudent issue of civil rights.

The chamber choir and Mr. Vance collaborated to determine an appropriate text for the piece. With the ideas for the text in hand, Vance wrote reflective music. As chamber choir rehearses the music, Vance listens and decides whether or not the music is what he had hoped it to be. Often times, writing music and imagining what it will sound like is far different from hearing it performed by live musicians. Luckily, Vance has the 32-member chamber choir at his disposal to explore new musical ideas.

Although participating in the creation of a new piece of music can be grueling, it is ultimately worth the work. The copious amount of time spent pays-off when one realizes that the creation of new music is imperative for the continuation of our musical world, as well as for our posterity.

This semester, the Nevada Union Chamber Choir is again singing an original

composition by local composer Mark Vance. Mr. Vance’s songs have actually

become sort of a tradition; Chamber students know that by the end of the second semester, they can expect at least one of his songs in their folder.

The process, however, by which we learn a piece by Mark Vance is unique from the way we learn other pieces because he actually has us help compose it. No, we don’t all stand over his shoulder suggesting where a neat place to put one of those dots would be, yet we’re still involved and on a grander scale than that sort of minutia.

This year, Mark came in one day and told us the overarching idea for this semester’s composition: honoring Rosa Parks. He then asked us for ideas we wanted to incorporate. That day, ideas like the “Separate but Equal” doctrine established by the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (brought up, interestingly enough, only

because the AP US History Students had just read that chapter), Jim Crow segregation laws and the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott were brought up. Mark thanked us for our time and went on his merry way. A few weeks later, we had sheet music in our hands but that wasn’t the end. Every once in a while, Mark would come in and listen to us learn the piece, clarify things for Mr. Baggett and for the singers and take more suggestions. All in all, I think we went through about 3 different versions before we got our final sheet music. Both Mark and the Choir have put a lot of work into “Rosa Parks” and I know we’re all eager to show it to the community.

Don’t miss it!

Let’s get “Rosa” out,” Mr. Baggett says, motioning to our music folders.

It’s another early morning for the Nevada Union Chamber Choir. We meet weekdays at 6:30, singing music of many different genres; this year, we’ve sung everything from an 16th-century English Madrigal to an African piece worshipping the goddess Calypso. The choir program here is therefore very popular, stemming from an over sixty year tradition of excellence.

Well known on the West Coast, the choir has also won numerous prestigious music competitions in Europe. This year, however, marks a momentous occurrence; for the first time in this choir’s history, the Choral Boosters Club has commissioned a piece specifically for the Chamber Choir. Mark Vance, a local composer/musician, who lives in Nevada City, has tailored the piece around a theme he and Mr. Baggett chose at the beginning of the school year. The piece is a tribute to Rosa Parks, an unintentional heroine of the Civil Rights Movement, who died in 2005. Not only does the piece evoke the great injustice experienced by African Americans in the United States, it also depicts the bravery of the individuals who led the movement to

eradicate injustice. The song’s common theme is an uplifting Spiritual, which intones that “peace will be comin’ soon.” Throughout the piece, a narrator also chronicles the events leading to the movement, as well as the momentous day when Ms. Parks refused to relinquish her bus seat to accommodate a white person. Powerfully, the piece celebrates Ms. Parks courage in the face of injustice, as she stood up for her basic rights and lifted the crushed spirits of millions of others in the process.


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