Cardinal Singers honor Roethke with performance of his poems

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SVSU’s Cardinal Singers performed for the Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival on Monday, March 26, in the Malcolm Field Theatre at 7:30 p.m.

The event was coordinated by the Roethke Planning Committee, which is under the direction of Helen Raica-Klotz, the director of the SVSU Writing Center.

“The festival happens every three years,” said Kevin Simons, the director of Cardinal Singers. “We have been asked before to participate, but this is the first time that we participated. We decided to make the commitment because I was able to make it work with our other performances.”

Simons was excited to perform Roethke’s poems as a public concert.

“Many folks in Saginaw are familiar with Roethke’s poetry, but they hadn’t heard these settings before,” Simons said. “I love that we’ve got to introduce the audience to new music.”

The program proved to be challenging for disparate reasons.

“There are very few musical settings of Roethke’s poems because the poetry is still under copyright,” Simons said. “It was a challenge to be able to find enough music to fill a concert program.”

The songs were hard to learn and perform.

“This was a difficult program for us because the music is challenging and often quite dissonant,” Simons said. “The Singers had to work quite hard to learn the music.”

To help the Cardinal Singers prepare, Annie Ransford, the president of the Friends of Roethke, gave the group a lecture pertaining to Roethke’s poems and life.

Music sophomore Vincent Frank found Ransford’s discussion beneficial while preparing for the concert.

“Cardinal Singers has spent all semester preparing these songs,” Frank said. “We built up the music section by section and song by song, but we also had Annie Ransford come in and give us some different perspectives on the poetry. The discussion with her was mind-opening and helped us better understand what we were singing about.”

Frank’s solo piece was titled “Snake.”

“‘Snake’ is by Ned Rorem, and his contemporary compositional style is a bit out there,” Frank said. “I love how wacky it is, and I was excited to share that with the audience. It’s probably the most challenging song I’ve done so far. It was a team effort between me and my accompanist, Amanda, who always does a great job.”

Frank’s favorite piece to perform was “The Shy Man” by Paul Carey.

“I think it is hauntingly beautiful and really enhances the imagery that Roethke used,” Frank said. “This poem was different from most of his other works. It’s not so much about the grandiosity of nature but more an intimate ballad.”

Simons enjoyed “My Papa’s Waltz.”

“It was raucous and fun but really reflected the danger in the poem,” Simons said. “It’s a great piece.”

Simons was happy with how the Cardinal Singers performed.

“The Singers really rose to the occasion and performed beautifully,” Simons said. “I was very proud.”

Many audience members enjoyed the concert, including alumnus Charles Bicigo.

“The Cardinal Singers are a great group,” Bicigo said. “It’s interesting to see local poems and music come together. The third setting of “The Waking” was especially unique. The harmonies that were in it were beautiful, kind of modern, but still continued several themes of the pieces.”

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