IU’s contemporary vocal ensemble, NOTUS, released its second studio album, “What is Ours: Music for an America in Progress,” on Dec. 9, 2022, over three years since the release of its debut album, “Of Radiance and Refraction,” in September 2018.
The album, arranged and directed by Dominick DiOrio, a professor of music at the Jacobs School of Music, was meant to be an outgrowth of NOTUS’ tour to New Zealand for the World Symposium on Choral Music. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the process was delayed, and the album was recorded over a three-year time span with two different choir rosters.
“I’m grateful to the students who helped to make it possible three years ago,” DiOrio said. “And the ones who helped to make it possible last year.”
The album’s title and songs stemmed from DiOrio’s desire for NOTUS to represent a diverse America at the symposium, choosing to select compositions that reflected that.
“I wanted a huge array of voices,” DiOrio said. “Some composers we had were Carlos Cordero, who is Venezuelan American, Reena Esmail, who’s Indian American, and Joel Thompson, who’s African American, to name a few.”
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The vocal talents of the NOTUS students bring each composition to life with a mesmerizing grace, creating hauntingly gorgeous melodies that effortlessly capture American culture through song.
Elizabeth Queen, an IU graduate student, said she saw this reflection of American culture through the different languages performed on the album.
“America is a melting pot,” Queen said. “We were singing things in Spanish. We were speaking things in Vietnamese and Mandarin and singing ‘America the Beautiful’ — which I think is a beautiful thing to tie cultures together.”
The album also tackles pandemic culture in ‘Wire You Here,’ a composition by Moira Smiley. The song encapsulates the feelings of frustration and exhaustion experienced by students through overlapping dialogue.
“It was a really great experience because it was interactive rather than just singing,” Queen said. “Me and my other soloist were pretending to have conversations on our phones.”
Despite the unique compositions and large scope of the album, Alex Koppel, an IU doctorate student, enjoyed the recording process as a welcome reprieve from other work.
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“The experience singing for Dominick (DiOrio) is a really special one because you never feel like there’s anything outside your reach,” Koppel said.
Koppel saw the album’s embodiment of American culture as a testament to the value of music, existing in a moment of time that can never be revisited except through the tradition of song.
“Projects like this are really important as a snapshot of where we were in this moment,” Koppel said. “The feeling might fade, your emotions might fade, but we have this beautiful snapshot of a piece of music that represented it.”
The newest album, “What is Ours: Music for an America in Progress” can be streamed on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, deezer, and Tidal as well as through Navona Record.