by Gene Marrano
A 25-year veteran as a professor of fine arts at Roanoke College, Dr. Jeffrey Sandborg keeps busy these days as the conductor and choir director for both the Roanoke College Choir and the Oriana Singers, a two-year-old all-female group. Recently the Oriana Singers had a “very successful collaboration,” with the University of Virginia Glee Club – a men’s group – a joint effort they will repeat this Saturday night at St. Andrews Church (7:30pm) in Roanoke, in a concert featuring Mozart’s Requiem.
Sandborg’s wife Marianne is a soprano soloist, one of just several soloists on the program. “Men’s and women’s choirs… often collaborate with each other,” said Sandborg. As for working with his wife: “we have tempo disagreements and things like that,” chuckles Sandborg, “that other people might not question me about.” Sandborg has a Master’s in voice but doesn’t sing much now except to demonstrate in rehearsal.
Like a college football recruiter, Sandborg scans applications from incoming students, looking for freshmen that might have an interest in singing. He also does local high school workshops, all the while looking for fresh talent. “I’m trying to bring in as many of the best singers as I can, so it’s no accident that we have good singers in there.”
His goal from the “get go” was to put the Oriana Singers on a level playing field with the more established Roanoke College Choir. “We’ve done that, I think. They really are just as good in their own way.”
The Oriana Singers have tackled folk songs, French Canadian pieces, avant-garde Swedish songs and classical works. Both the Oriana Singers and Roanoke College Choir members take classes for college credits. The choir was revived in the late 1950’s after flourishing earlier in the 20th century. Sandborg assumed the reigns in 1985 and has taken the group overseas to Europe and South America. Domestic concert venues like the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. are other highlights.
On April 17th the Oriana Singers will appear with Virginia Tech’s “Naturally Sharp,” a cappella men’s group, at St. Andrews (4pm.) Admission is free to both events but an offering is suggested. On May 6th the co-ed Roanoke College Choir appears at the same venue, Roanoke’s iconic Catholic church on the hill, in the annual spring concert. The choir recently appeared with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra for Beethoven’s 9th symphony.
“The kids were just electrified,” said Sandborg, who also contends that St. Andrews made his reputation: he went there on a tour when first coming to town and determined that this was where the Roanoke College Choir would hold future concerts. There is no suitable space relative to both size and acoustics on the Salem campus he points out.
“St. Andrews is a wonderful place to perform, especially choral music, but it has special [challenges] you have to deal with because of the acoustics,” noted Sandborg. That means “taking things a little bit slower,” and articulating more clearly. Regardless he said, “any credibility I ever had was because of St. Andrews.”
There won’t be much time for the Oriana Singers to practice with the Virginia Glee Club before this Saturday’s concert but Sandborg said they had plenty of time to do that at UVA before the previous concert. Integrating orchestral musicians with the two singing groups is the third crucial part of the equation.
The Oriana Singers were very impressed by the rotunda at UVA and the academic environs during the recent joint program in Charlottesville, when Glee Club alumni joined the current group on stage at Old Cabell to sing the UVA fight song. “That’s all they’ve been talking about,” said Sandborg of his all-female group. He looks forward to returning the favor on Saturday, impressing the Glee Club when it comes south to Roanoke. “It’s going to be a great experience here. We hope to fill St. Andrews.” (see Roanoke.edu/choir for more information and music snippets.)