Perkins musicians share stage with the pros

Students from the chorus and orchestra performed classical and folk music in collaboration with the Emmanuel Music ensemble

The student chorus stands and sings during a concert.

In collaboration with Emmanuel Music, the Perkins chorus and orchestra performed in concert on Thursday.

February 1, 2018

The Perkins School for the Blind chorus and orchestra performed in concert with Emmanuel Music last week, keeping alive a years-long collaboration between the school and one of Boston’s premier musical organizations.

Joined by two singers and a pianist from the resident ensemble of the nearby Emmanuel Church, 10 student singers and instrumentalists from Perkins put on a diverse program highlighted by music from folk icon Pete Seeger, Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and Italian Renaissance writer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

Arnie Harris, Perkins music teacher and director, said the concert — attended by students, teachers and others in the Perkins community — reflected the hours of work put in by students during rehearsals.

“It’s very exciting — reinforcing,” he said. “The students feel really good that they’re at a level to sing and play with some really great players.”

Secondary Program student Jamie, 19, who pulls double duty at Perkins as a singer and trumpet player, added, “It almost feels more professional in a way.”

The concert doubled as a chance for students to learn about the music they performed. Emmanuel’s Paul Guttry, bass-baritone, and Gail Abbey, soprano, used the time in between songs to talk history and compositional technique. The musicians also offered singing tips gleaned from years of experience.

“They helped us work on our vowels and how to breathe,” said Secondary Program student Jonah, 19. “It’s cool that we have the opportunity to sing with them.”

Perkins has been hosting Emmanuel Music every year for well over a decade, one of several collaborations organized by the music department. Other partners include local classical music group Chorus pro Musica and the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, the barbershop chorus Vocal Revolution and Revels, a nationally-recognized theater group. Each organization will visit Perkins in 2018.

“These kids get more involvement with outside groups than most high school choruses do,” said Harris.

After Thursday’s concert, Emmanuel’s musicians presented a master class with the students. In this more intimate setting, they answered questions, quizzed students on their abilities to identify melodic themes on the piano and asked them what specific emotions certain songs made them feel.

“I love working with the students,” said Abbey, who has sung with Emmanuel since 1986. “They are so eager and it’s so clear that music is so important to them. They’re also knowledgeable —  I ask questions and they have the answers.”

Finally, the students and Emmanuel again sang Fallt mit Danken, the Bach oratorio that served as the concert’s centerpiece. With the audience gone by this point, they were singing not for a crowd, but for their shared love of the music.

The student orchestra performs in concert.

The Perkins orchestra in concert with Emmanuel Music.