When I interviewed Emily Isaacson, the artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale and interim director of the Bowdoin Chorus, about the challenge of being a conductor, she said, “My main competition is Netflix. I want people to get off their couches and go out and experience the power and magic of live music.”

A native of Brunswick, Isaacson has been drawn to music her whole life. “My parents would take me to the movies when I was a toddler. I’d fall asleep and then wake up humming the theme song.”

She’s wanted to be a conductor since she was 15, and her dream has become a reality. “I love everything about conducting, sharing ideas through music, obsessing with every detail, creating incredible music for a large audience.”

The pandemic has created challenges for everyone, especially for choirs, because singing can be a high-risk activity for COVID-19.

Isaacson has risen to meet this challenge — and more. On Saturday, Nov. 6, the Oratorio Chorale and the Bowdoin Chorus will present an outdoor concert entitled, “Unforeseen Grace” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and Bowdoin Pines. The program will begin with “Mass for Double Choir,” written by Swiss composer Frank Martin and recognized as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth-century choral music.

The program will conclude with “Unforeseen Grace,” an innovative” self-directed concert that breathes wonder into familiar spaces. Audience members will travel among more than 70 performers at dusk to create their own immersive sonic experience. The original music for this piece by Emily Isaacson along with Bowdoin junior Logan Gillis, draws from short 12-bar compositions by student members of the Bowdoin Chorus. Isaacson likens the piece to a musical quilt.

“Normally I get to move to the music and audience members just sit there. I want them to really engage with the music while walking through the 10 sonic stations. They can even bring their kids and if the kids run around, that’s just fine.”

Clearly, Emily Isaacson is not your up-tight, paint-by-the-numbers conductor. That said, she brings a passion to bringing her musical visions to life. Logan Gillis, a Bowdoin senior who collaborated with Isaacson on the innovative piece, says, “Emily is passionate about making the music as good as it can be. And, like me, she loves blending music and nature.”

Yaerin Wellenberger, a Bowdoin junior from Hong Kong, says, “It’s great to make complex harmonious sounds with other people.” Ruth Olujob, a Bowdoin first-year from Nigeria, says, “It’s challenging to learn to sing from the heart.” Augie Seeger, a junior from Madison, Connecticut, says, “Emily brings a whole new level of energy to the music.”

Julia and Bob Walking, who’ve been singing all their lives, have tapped into Isaacson’s energy. “She’s a wonderful musician and a terrific director,” says Julia. Her husband Bob says simply, “She knows what she’s doing.”

Lucie Teegarden, a member of the Oratorio Chorale since 1984, appreciates the opportunity to sing before an audience after a long hiatus. “It’s wonderful to be back singing before a large audience!”

I had the pleasure of observing Isaacson in action by attending a rehearsal during Bowdoin’s recent Family Weekend. She exuded energy and joy for the entire hour; she stopped, from time to time, to make specific instructions to this or that section. At one point, after the singers had worked per her instructions on a difficult part, she turned to the audience and said, “There, didn’t that sound better?” (It did.)

Here’s my message: Get off your couch — or whatever — and experience the Oratorio Chorale and the Bowdoin College Chorus creating “Unforeseen Grace,” an unforgettable musical event. It will be performed on Saturday, November 6 at 1:00 p.m. and at 4:00 p.m. at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and Bowdoin Pines. (The rain date is Sunday, November 7.) The concert if free, but one must register in advance. Go to oratoriochorale.org for information.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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