Una Vocis Choral Ensemble will present its spring concert, Hear Me, Saturday, May 7 at Holy Family Catholic Church, 714 North Adams Avenue, Mason City, at 7:00 p.m. NordKor Youth Choir will join Una Vocis in this concert exploring sound, silence, and hearing.
The culmination of this concert, A Silence Haunts Me by composer Jake Runestad and poet Todd Boss, vividly reenacts Ludwig van Beethoven’s descent into deafness through an adaptation of an 1802 letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers. Now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, this letter confesses the composer’s bewilderment and outrage that God would be taking from him the gift and ability he most prized – his music. The loss of his hearing torments Beethoven to thoughts of suicide. The letter was never sent; it was found among his effects after his death fourteen years later. During that interval, Beethoven penned some of his most enduring masterpieces, including his Ninth Symphony with its exultant chorus, Ode to Joy. Though he could not possibly have known it at the time he penned this letter to his brothers, Beethoven would triumph creatively in the very hearing loss he most feared, challenging conventions and claiming his pivotal position within the Western musical tradition.
Una Vocis Artistic Director, Dennis Lee, finds Beethoven’s creativity inspiring and the challenge of hearing loss all too familiar. “On July 4, 2017, I was enjoying the expanded legalization of fireworks in the state of Iowa. In the course of the fun, a mishap occurred, and a very small bottle rocket reversed course from its trajectory and flew back toward its launch point and went off very near my right ear. It was not close enough to burn or even feel heat from the report, but it was close enough to cause instant pain and ringing in my right ear. I figured the pain and ringing would subside after a short time, but it persisted for days and resulted in permanent, pronounced hearing loss above 4000 Hz in my right ear.”
Lee notes that damage to hearing can result from chance accidents or long-term exposure to environmental causes. “Scientists speculate that Beethoven’s deafness resulted from exposure to lead in the plates and cookware of the period. While that is no longer an issue, hearing loss is a reality for many of us. Musicians, particularly instrumentalists, are at risk. Those who have served in the military, farmers, anyone who works with machinery or engines…it’s important that we protect our hearing.”
Hearing Associates, P.C., is partnering with Una Vocis as presenting sponsor for this concert. The private practice audiology group’s website notes that “hearing loss can come at any stage of life.” Lee is pleased that Hearing Associates was open to supporting this concert and raising public awareness of hearing loss. “Alex Crippin was really receptive to our idea of partnering together. Alex is a musician himself; he sings with the River City Barbershop Chorus. So he and Hearing Associates are perfect partners for this Una Vocis concert.”
Lee stresses that the concert is not about hearing loss but “sound, silence, and hearing” in a larger sense. “Beethoven overcame the challenges he faced. In the final analysis, this concert is an exploration and a celebration.”
This concert also features works by William Byrd, Connor Koppin, Jonathan Kobs, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Rutter, Thomas Weelkes, Dale Warland, and William Backlin. Una Vocis welcomes the talents of Ken Bahls on cello and Una Vocis accompanist Mary Jane Crail on piano. NordKor, under the direction of Melissa Shallberg, will be accompanied by Sarah Betz on piano.
Tickets are available by calling The Electricians at (641) 423-1867, at Soyphisticated Candles, and online at www.unavocis.org. Tickets are $12 in advance; $15 at the door. Student tickets are $5.