When the Hampden-Sydney College Men's Chorus was invited to audition for a Carnegie Hall performance of composer Randall Thompson’s work Testament of Freedom, director Dr. Helena von Rueden knew it was an opportunity they had to pursue.
According to von Rueden, Thompson’s work is steeped in American history, just like Hampden-Sydney College: "The lyrics were based on the prose of Thomas Jefferson, written not too far from here. The score was composed at the University of Virginia, not too far from here. And it was written for all-male ensemble, which we have right here.” The twenty-minute choral piece was commissioned by the University of Virginia in 1943 to mark the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth; Thompson used Jefferson’s own words as the lyrics.
Last spring, the Men's Chorus submitted audition tapes and were accepted into the ensemble, setting into motion a February 2017 trip to New York City. Over the course of five days, the group visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 9/11 Memorial, and the top of Rockefeller Plaza. They also took in an off-Broadway play and joined the H-SC Club of New York City for an evening reception at the Pier A Harbor House, where they watched the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty. Von Reuden collaborated with Charles Potts ’88 to organize the event, which brought current H-SC students together with alumni and friends of the College.
The main focus of the trip was their performance on Carnegie Hall’s famed Perelman Stage. After several days of intense rehearsals, 16 Hampden-Sydney students joined other choirs and individual performers from across the globe to present The Glory of Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans. Closing out the concert with their rendition of Testament of Freedom, the 270-man chorus received a standing ovation from the sold-out audience of 2,800.
It was the second time that the Hampden-Sydney students had performed the demanding choral piece, with its powerful refrain: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them.”
The departments of fine arts and history collaborated on a February 9 concert at Crawley Forum featuring Thompson’s Testament of Freedom and Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, with thought-provoking introductions by history professor Dr. John Coombs and professor emeritus Dr. Ronald Heinemann. The event included a powerful slideshow of Civil War-era photos curated by H-SC students and narrated by Provost Dennis Stevens, as well as musical accompaniment by professor emeritus Dr. James Kidd on piano and visiting professor Dr. Vincent Rone on organ.
After the concert, von Rueden remarked, “I’m so proud of the work we accomplished in this performance, bringing together the intellectual and creative gifts of so many in our community, across disciplines, celebrating the power of music to tell our history in impactful ways.”