The Choirmaster and Essence

G. Roberts Kolb was the longtime choirmaster and conductor of several of Hamilton College’s vocal societies. He led the Oratorio Society every year, which was one of the few college classes that included non-students from the Clinton area. I took Oratorio for two semesters, and learned a tremendous amount from him.

During one of those classes, he explained, in vocal chorale, the concept of “essence” to us. “Imagine you have a cheeseburger. The bun is one part of the experience. The condiments are another. Even the burger itself is its own distinctive part. But if you take every part of the cheeseburger and separate it … the remaining flavor and taste … that is the essence. That is the heart of the vocal experience.”

Trust me, he could have explained the sound of one hand clapping and it would have made total sense.

He’s a Professor Emeritus now, and at my recent college reunion, he hosted the all-reunions Chapel chorale service. It’s an important part of the Hamilton College reunion experience, allowing alumni to reflect on those classmates who were called to Glory, as well as to reflect on our time on the Hill.

Now to understand what is happening here … the Hamilton College Chapel is a multi-tiered facility; students may sit in the first floor pews, or in the seats in the balcony. For the Chapel service, however, the reunion choirs assembled in the balcony, while Professor Kolb conducted from the other side of the balcony.

And I just happened to sit in the pew below Professor Kolb.

When the music began, I noticed the memorable gesturing and expressive, sweeping motion of Professor Kolb’s hands as he guided the choir. Every muscle in his arms, in his fingers, moved in such a way that he controlled each choir voice with pinpoint accuracy.

And I had the perfect angle to capture one of those moments.

And for all intents and purposes … I captured Professor Kolb’s “essence.”

The Conductor’s Essence. Google Pixel 6 Pro camera. Photo (c) 2022 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

I may definitely move this to the short pile for Competition Season 2022, or even keep it for 2023.

But yeah, in one quick motion … I caught the essence.

And I’m good with that.