Duke Chorale (Silver Swan): A final performance

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
When their annual tour was cut short this spring, Duke Chorale student Jia Jia Shen conducted an impromptu concert on the bus.
Jia Jia Shen conducts on the Duke Chorale tour bus

Rodney Wykoop, Professor of the Practice of Music and Director of the Duke Chorale, shared this story:

One of my conducting students, Jia Jia Shen, posted on reddit a video of some Chorale members singing on our tour bus on the final day of our shortened tour, and it was broadcast recently on a radio program on WBUR in Boston. The music is from a setting of words traditionally heard in Gibbons’ well-known “Silver Swan,” in a contemporary setting by Michael Bussewitz-Quarm. The singing is in a bus acoustic with only a small number of the Chorale members singing and Jia Jia conducting from her bus seat, but I was deeply touched by the poignancy of the Chorale’s singing, as they realized that they, like the swan of Greek legend, who sings just one note immediately before dying, have sung Silver Swan just once on tour, and that it was also for the last time. I can’t listen to this without thinking about how much this experience may have helped to mature and deepen not only their understanding of how a legend can be relevant to their own lives but also of how empty and impoverished our own lives would be without music.

In the interview on WBUR, Jia Jia introduces the song:  "Every spring break, the choir goes on tour. It's usually like this great big fun, concert every night kind of thing. But with coronavirus becoming a huge issue, it was pretty apparent that we would have to stop singing pretty soon together. And I think because of that, a lot of us wanted to make music anytime we could. And so one of the options was the bus because we were all stuck together in one place. This piece is The Silver Swan by Michael Bussewitz-Quarm. It's based on a legend, a Greek legend about how swans don't sing until they're until they're about to die. But what was really cool about it was that my peers on the bus allowed me to conduct the piece with them. And it was an amazing experience to like, be so close to the people I sing with and I mean, this is one of the first times you would sing the song on our tour. And also one of the last. And so it was just, so poignant and a thing to remember and thank god, Yi Chen, he got a video recording of it all. And the week after tour, after everybody had gone home and we were all alone again. I spent that time watching it over and over again. And it's a great memory. And I'm so happy to share it with all of you.”