As the tuning of the instrumentalists faded, silence fell on Auer Hall. The silence was cut by the raised hands of the conductor, Dominick DiOrio, drawing the elegant harmonies of the chorus from the air, guiding them out to the fixed gazes of audience members that had come to watch NOTUS’ first concert of the semester.
The contemporary student vocal ensemble, NOTUS, performed their first concert of the school year at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 in Auer Hall. The concert featured four main pieces and five additional pieces performed without interruption. These five additional pieces are a part of the National Collegiate Choral Organization Performance Set which NOTUS will perform at the NCCO Biennial Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
According to the program, these five works were performed to remind the audience of the power of compassion, the power of a full life and the power of an individual in a community.
One piece performed was a debut performance composed by an IU sophomore and NOTUS choral member, Thejas Mirle. Entitled “Du Silbena Datia” or “The Sighing Mists,” Mirle introduced his piece — performed second in the evening’s program for the first time ever — to the crowd. He cited his inspiration from the popular book series, “The Inheritance Cycle,” specifically a poem from the first book, “Eragon,” which he composed music to set the poem to.
Despite having never written a choral piece before, Mirle said he had always pushed himself to compose new things since first composing music for short films he and his friends had made. Originally written in high school, Mirle revisited this piece, revising it with a more experienced eye to fully bring the story of the poem to life.
“The poem is a song that the elves sing to their kids about two lovers,” Mirle said. “I felt like I really got a chance to capture something that was a little magical. It fit with the series, and it brought a part of the book to life.”
Mirle’s composition was performed as a part of the 2023 NOTUS Student Composition Contest, which saw his piece winning third prize. While rehearsing his piece with the rest of the NOTUS choir, Mirle found that the conductor, DiOrio, helped bring his composition to life.
“He is able to bring out the sound of the piece more than I could even imagine,” Mirle said. “The composer writes a recipe, and the conductor brings it to life and finds things in it to make it grow and really speak to the audience.”
The third piece performed was “Psalm 90” by Charles Ives. Opening with the reverberating chords of the Auer Hall organ and accompanied by the faint sound of bells, “Psalm 90” created an almost gothic, churchlike accompaniment to the choir’s vocals.
IU doctoral student, Ryan Rogers, conducted NOTUS on this composition. Being able to work on a technically complex piece, like Ives’ “Psalm 90,” was an engaging challenge Rogers said. One half of the piece challenges the traditional choral elements before the other half reconciles those differences to become more melodically traditional.
“I have to switch from conducting a chant that hasn’t been timed with any rhythmic value so it’s speechlike, to conducting very precise rhythmic invocations from Ives,” Rogers said.
According to the choral conducting dept. webpage, NOTUS is known for performing works composed by more modern artists to reflect the ever-changing and diversifying landscape of America. While two of the compositions performed were slightly older, Rogers said he found that the approach NOTUS had taken to them gave them a new sound and feel, something the ensemble did frequently with their performances.
“The group really has a unique mission to promote living and developing choral music in the present while also being able to look back at our musical history in a really unique way,” Rogers said.
IU master student Ella Torres sung in the fourth composition, “An Inner Sky” by Matthew Peterson, in a soloist role. Challenging from a vocal standpoint, the poem used in the composition features several spelled out letters with punctuative emphasis like question marks, something Torres said she enjoyed finding ways to sing aloud.
“It’s so playful in getting to work with the sounds the human body can make,” Torres said., “It’s acapella, so it’s just the voices.”
Torres’ solo in the piece was unlike a traditional solo which would usually be performed as a stand-alone vocal set without the rest of the chorus. In “An Inner Sky,” however, Torres’ solo was interwoven throughout the chorus, more supportive to the group than to itself — something Torres said she felt was indicative of all the pieces on the evening’s program.
“Everyone has a moment all the time, there are pieces where soloists get to shine and it’s so gorgeous,” Torres said. “But there are other moments where its less about the individual and more about the part you play to bring the piece to life.”