Originally founded in 1901, the Grinnell Oratorio Society was, in the early decades of the 20th Century, one of Iowa's most auspicious musical institutions. Edward Scheve (1865-1924), a composer of symphonies, concertos, oratorios, and chamber music, established the choir as an outgrowth of the music conservatory that was then part of Grinnell College.
In 2010, the Grinnell Community Chorus was renamed the Grinnell Oratorio Society as a way to draw attention to this proud history.
The choir currently rehearses Monday nights, and it draws together students, faculty, and staff of the College, people from the town of Grinnell, and nearby cities such as Newton and Malcolm. This fall we’ll be performing Joseph Haydn’s Mass in a Time of Trouble (Also known as the “Lord Nelson” Mass). This is a highly dramatic work, with ample opportunities for expressive singing. The concert will also include Caroline Shaw’s recent work, To the Hands. Caroline Shaw is the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in music — and the only woman to ever receive that award. Her piece focuses on the issues of refugee resettlement and homelessness. Rather than charging a fee for the performance materials, Shaw provides them for free with the strict stipulation that the ensemble must make funding efforts to contribute toward the resolution of these problems. The musical work uses phrases from the poem inscribed in the Statue of Liberty and holds them up to the listener as a provocative challenge. For this November 19, 2:00 pm concert, we’ll be accompanied by a professional orchestra and soprano soloist Michelle Monroe, Alto Soloist Lisa Neher, and Bass Soloist Nicholas Miguel (tenor soloist to be announced soon).
In past years, the Oratorio Society has performed many of the masterpieces from the choral literature, such as Mozart's Requiem and Grand Mass in C Minor, Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Handel’s Messiah, Bach's Magnificat, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Verdi's Requiem, Brahms’s German Requiem, Duruflé’s Requiem, and Britten's monumental War Requiem.
In addition to performing these monumental works, the choir also has expanded its activity beyond the confines of classical music. In the spring of 2012, for example, the Oratorio Society participated in thrilling performances of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts in collaboration with the Grinnell Jazz Ensemble—and a professional tap dancer. In the 2012-13 season, we presented The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, by Carol Barnett, in collaboration with an outstanding bluegrass string band from Minneapolis, Monroe Crossing.
The Oratorio Society is a valuable resource for our community — and the more involvement we have, the greater the impact will be. Unlike most choruses of this type, there are no dues charged for the Oratorio Society; the College supports the ensemble as a service to the community.
Recording of the Oratorio Society singing “Let Our Mouths Be Filled,” by Sergei Rachmaninov