Photo by Kathryn Power.
Photo by Kathryn Power.

As melodies of Mozart drift about the recital hall at the UC Santa Cruz music center, one cannot help but notice the size of the choir rehearsing for this weekend’s upcoming performance of “Requiem.”

This year, the choir is noticeably smaller than previous years due to the fact that the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir were combined for the year, due to financial and staffing difficulties.

“[Conductor] Nicole Paiement is on leave in Winter 2010, so we would have had to hire a lecturer to cover [the Chamber Singers] course at a time where, for budgetary reasons, the hire was difficult to fund,” said Music Department Chair Frederic Leiberman.

Liberman also said that the division budget reductions, paired with the opportunity to form a collaborative ensemble, were the driving forces of the choice to combine the choirs.

The change, however, resulted in fewer opportunities for students to participate in the ensemble.

“Fewer spaces from last year resulted in fewer spots,” said Nathaniel Berman, lecturer and conductor of the UCSC Concert Choir.

In the past, the more rigorous Chamber Singers have been comprised mostly of music majors specializing in vocal training, while the Concert Choir was open to any UCSC student who was accepted by audition. However, due to the music department’s participation requirements, it was Concert Choir that took the cut in numbers.

“Chamber [choir] can’t be cut,” Berman said. “They are required to have a performance ensemble.”

Nicole Paiement, director of ensembles and conductor of “Requiem,” said that she hopes the large ensemble will be a challenge students rise to.

“My philosophy is to always work at the level of the best singers and instrumentalists,” Paiement said. “The end result is that the stronger musicians become great models and inspiration for the growth of the less advanced.”

While two separate classes still exist for each of the respective choirs, the large ensemble is taking advantage of its size.

“When we collaborate, we choose musical works that benefit from having a larger group of singers,” Paiement said. “The musical experience always comes first.”

The combination of the choirs has been met by positive and negative responses by the student participants.

“It is forcing me to step up — I can no longer only rely on the other very talented people in my section,” Brendan Hartnett, a third-year vocal major said. “I am always trying to improve as a musician.”

As of right now, Lieberman says that the department has every intention, barring further financial strain, of separating the choirs come next fall.

“If we are faced with large additional cuts later this year or next year, there will be some very difficult choices,” Lieberman said.

The faculty, however, are taking a positive outlook on the present situation, even in the face of the uncertain future.

“This year we want to raise the [skill] level of concert choir,” Paiement said. “We are hoping to attract a higher level of musicianship.”

Through “Requiem,” the music department intends to show audiences the skill level of its students and the worth of reinvesting in the music department.

“It is going to be a very high level, powerful, beautiful concert,” said Liz Baseman, second-year vocal major and choir participant.

Both Berman and Paiement said they hope not only to bring in audiences and raise funds, but to garner awareness for the arts.

“Support the department by attending shows,” Berman said. “It is not just a matter of money but a way of demonstrating our ensemble is strong — if we can have three sold-out shows, it will be a great demonstration of that support.”

By taking on one of Mozart’s most well-known works of music, support will be drawn in both locally and on a larger scale.

“Large collaborations bring a lot of visibility,” Paiement said. “We need that.”

With the hopes of sold-out shows on their minds, choir students finish preparations for the presentation of Mozart’s final work that they say will be spectacular.

“It is epic choral music,” Hartnett said. “Mozart went out with a hell of a bang.”