Long before Iron Maiden discovered the eerie words of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” German composer Carl Orff breathed music into the randy poems of medieval monks that continues to set the stage for Ozzy Osborne concerts and other pop culture outlets.

The classical cantata “Carmina Burana” may not seem familiar by name, but nearly everyone has heard the dramatic opening and closing piece, “O Fortuna.” The original poem, written in Latin by Bavarian monks, bemoans the cruelties of fortune. Orff, a classical composer in the early 1900s, created a full-orchestral sound that modern movie lovers recognize as the signal to something evil and creepy.

“It’s one of the most celebrated pieces in the country,” said Androscoggin Chorale director John Corrie. “You wouldn’t believe how many times you hear it. You’ll find yourself saying, ‘Oh, I know this.'”

Aside from the well-known “O Fortuna,” Orff took 24 poems of an even larger collection and set them to music that seemed revolutionary and avant-garde at the time. The poems also celebrate the glories of spring and love, as well as the highs and lows of gambling and drinking. Orff transformed the passion in the monk’s text into music.

The Androscoggin Chorale is finding its own gusto in rehearsing the entire cantata for upcoming dual concerts. Saturday, April 4, roughly 70 singers and musicians will perform “Carmina Burana” at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston. The chorale will repeat the concert Sunday, April 5, at the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham.

“I’m just having the time of my life,” said alto Kay Townsend of Greene. “It’s challenging, yet it’s so simple. Orff really outdid himself on this.”

Along with the chorale’s 56 regular singers, 10 students from Lewiston High School are adding their voices for the cantata, said Corrie. “It’s been a wonderful collegiate thing – these teenagers love working with these adults who are truly serious about singing,” said Corrie. “And it’s wonderful for them to have the sense that they are welcomed and respected.”

Corrie and Lewiston High School choir director Rebecca Poppke, also a chorale singer, enjoy a professional rapport that makes the combination of students and chorale comfortable and mutually engaging.

“It’s not only a crowd-pleaser, but it’s been a chorale booster. So many people have come and said that they wanted to sing this,” said Corrie. While Orff originally composed “Carmina Burana” to be sung with an elaborate orchestra, a purely percussion version exists that makes the performance more affordable, Corrie said.

The weekend concerts will feature six percussionists, including a Lewiston High School student, and pianists Bridget Convey and Chiharu Naruse. The three soloists are soprano Susun Strickland, tenor Brian Pfohl and baritone Leon Griesbach.

One of the tenor solos illustrates the monks’ familiarity with secular living by having the voice in falsetto relate the glories and downfalls of gambling, said Townsend, who also plays piano for Grace Lutheran Church in Auburn. “Actually my favorite song isn’t the ‘O Fortuna’ piece. It’s ‘In Taberna,’ which literally means ‘in the tavern.'”

Corrie described the monks as amorous and musically exciting. The language is Latin but sung with a high middle German accent. Of course, there will be an English translation for the audience.


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