With choral singing back in full swing, its community-building capacity is even more obvious to composer and Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) student Anna Schwartz. After writing the song “Answers” at the height of the pandemic, she is set to direct the CMU Chamber Choir’s spring performance of the song on April 28.
The piece is an upper choral voices number, one of numerous compositions by the fifth-year student.
“One of the things I’ve learned a lot about in my composition lessons [at CMU] is writing in a way where it feels like everyone is singing together, even when they’re not,” Schwartz says. “That in itself is a way composers can contribute to fostering community within the groups that they write for.”
Schwartz wrote the lyrics and music to “Answers” to do just that. The lyrics, which use nature as an analogy for human comfort, are sung in unison and harmony, alternately, throughout the piece, with different voice parts getting a chance to sing the melody. Initially, the piece expressed the necessity of love in a time of social scarcity. As we return to social abundance and encounter love more normally and easily, Schwartz explains, this piece reminds us to treasure this love that much more.
“That is a very different feeling for me than what the feeling was when I originally wrote it, and a really positive feeling,” says Schwartz. The transformation of this meaning is embodied in the CMU Chamber Choir’s ability to rehearse and perform it together this spring.
“I’m glad we can sing together again,” Schwartz says. “It’s so important for community engagement, for people feeling like they have a place to belong.”
Schwartz herself has certainly found a place to belong in various musical groups. In addition to participating in four musical groups at CMU, 10 of her arrangements and compositions have been performed by CMU groups and others.
“It’s really rewarding and life-giving for me as a young composer to hear choirs not only singing my work, but enjoying my work,” says Schwartz. “I love that CMU is giving us opportunities for that.”
Although Schwartz has conducted most of the performances of her pieces up until now, she plans on getting “Answers” published for other choir directors to conduct themselves as soon as possible. Given her emotional connection to the piece, Schwartz admits this is “scary.”
“You don’t know what it’s going to look like, or how it’s going to come across,” says Schwartz. “It’s sort of like sending your baby off into the world.”
Still, says Schwartz, “it’s a really important step.” Hoping to study composition and conducting at grad school once she graduates from CMU this spring, she knows this won’t be the last time she leaves her music to be conducted by another’s hands. Ultimately, she’s happy about this.
“There’s something so gratifying about knowing [my music] is out there doing good for other people,” says Schwartz. And the CMU music community will be the first to attest to that.