Limestone College Choral Music Students To Perform At "Songs Of Life Festival"

Songs of Life - LogoChoral music students from Limestone College will be a part of the “Songs of Life Festival: A Melancholy Beauty” this weekend in both Charleston and Columbia.

Limestone’s 23-member choir is performing in the musical event recounting the little-known story of how Bulgaria’s 49,000 Jews were saved from the Nazis by ordinary citizens, church and government officials. It is being performed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1943 rescue. The concert will be showcased at the Charleston Music Hall on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m., and again the next day at 7 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia.

The event combines the Limestone College and Community Chorus with the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, the Philip Kutev National Folklore Ensemble of Bulgaria, University of Florida Chamber Choir, The Bach Festival Youth Choir and soloists. The performance will open with the award-winning film about the rescue, The Optimists, and a performance by the Folklore Ensemble.

“We received an invitation back in May to be a part of this event, but we initially declined because I didn’t feel our choir was ready at the time,” explained Dr. Gena Poovey, the Chairperson of the Department of Music at Limestone. “Then in August, we were invited once again, by which time our numbers were up and our quality was so much better. So during the second week of classes this fall, we informed our choir of the invitation and we let them put it to a vote. Needless to say, they jumped at the chance.

“In taking part in this performance, we are giving our students an international experience without the burden of a production of this magnitude, and without making a trip to somewhere like Bulgaria,” Poovey continued. “For the students, it has been a lot of hard work to get ready for this, and I am so proud of them. It hasn’t been easy. They are on pins and needles ready for this to happen.”

The world premiere of “Songs of Life Festival: A Melancholy Beauty” was in 2011 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., followed by performances at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, both with the National Philharmonic, and the Wang Center in Boston with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

The work was organized and commissioned by Varna International, a concert production company based in Columbia. The organization was founded 15 years ago by husband and wife Kalin Tchonev, a native of Bulgaria, and Sharon Tchonev, a native of Israel whose Bulgarian grandparents were among those saved.

Dr. Poovey met the Tchonevs while working on her Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at USC, and that relationship led to Limestone’s choir being invited to be a part of this weekend’s performances.

“We stayed in touch over the years,” said Dr. Poovey, a native of Newton, NC. “I am so grateful that they thought of me and Limestone College when it came time to put this all together. It’s going to be emotional for me when our students set foot on that stage. It will magnify 100 times anything they have ever done up until this point.

“And when you do a trip such as this, you get to know the students on such a personal level,” she added. “Nothing builds a choral program like getting to travel and sing like this. They are going to be so wide-eyed when they get there, and this will give them stories to tell for years. They will come back better musicians because of this experience. It’s not just about studying the music and rehearsing their performance. Our students have also been learning about concert stage etiquette, planning their wardrobe, and so much more. They are going to give a valiant effort, and I know we will contribute in a great way.”  

As Professor of Choral/Vocal Music Education since 1993, Dr. Poovey teaches music and music education courses, applied voice lessons, and she directs the Limestone College Community Chorus, Show Choir, and Vocal Ensemble.

Varna International produces festivals and concerts and training programs in choral, orchestral and opera music throughout Europe, Israel, Turkey and the United States. Varna International mounted a concert commemorating the rescue in Bulgaria and Israel in 2008.

Dr. Poovey, who will also be performing along with five other non-student vocalists from the local community, estimates that Limestone students will be singing for about 35 minutes during the 70-minute performance.

“It’s so humbling and thrilling to be able to provide this opportunity to Limestone students,” Dr. Poovey said.

For tickets in Charleston, call (800)-514-3849. For the show in Columbia, tickets can be ordered by calling (803) 251-2222.