The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Everything Old Is New Again - April 22, 2017
by JR Keith
Last Saturday, the Sacramento Capitolaires put on their spring show at Christ Community Church. Sweet smiles and hellos greeted us as we received our tickets at Will Call. Then we made our way into the spacious sanctuary with its beautiful stage, set with risers, great lighting, and gleeful patrons all ready for this Saturday afternoon a cappella barbershop event!
Flanking the risers, just behind the stage, were two large screens projecting pictures of past shows. Then a few moments after the announced showtime, the Capitolaires began taking their positions on the risers, and as Director, Ray Rhymer, reached the stage, the audience welcomed the choristers with big applause.
Once the men were standing in place, the Master of Ceremonies, Larry Womac, began his welcome. His sonorous voice and articulate delivery made us feel comfortable, as he explained why this concert was titled, “Everything Old Is New Again.” In a nice added touch, Womac quoted Leviticus 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
This concert was to have 6 acts and a 20-minute intermission, and it was all kicked off with the Capitolaires singing “When Everything Old is New Again” — which got my toes a-tapping. I settled in, enjoying the rich sound and clarity of articulation from these gentlemen. I glanced over my shoulder to take in the happy faces of the audience members. There seemed to be deep admiration for what was happening on that stage. I get it: this first song took me back to my community college days singing barbershop medleys, and I fell in love with this musical style all over again. The Capitolaires' entertainment value was over the top, and I deeply embrace the importance of the barbershop artistry that they share at special events, holiday parties, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and company shin-digs!
When Womac returned to the mic, he reminded the audience of the deep roots barbershop harmony has in our country. He even traced its history back to Elizabethan England, up through what is thought to be the first meeting of the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America in Oklahoma in 1938.
The scope of barbershop songs the Capitolaires delivered varied from simple 4-part harmonies to quite demanding arrangements. Since there were only 2 tenors on stage balancing a full cast of bass (8), lead (6), and baritone (3) voices, I found it impressive that these men were blending so beautifully. No matter what the song was, there was balance, harmony, fun, frivolity, and fascination! These men are veteran showman, delivering their songs with body language, colorful phrasing, and an ebb-and-flow style I have come to associate with great barbershop crooners from days gone by.
Throughout their performance, the Capitolaires were true to their barbershop heritage. This was a concert full of introspection, love, love lost, and love regained. They shared perspectives from childhood, rites of passage, and growing and aging. Consider the poignancy of “Darkness on the Delta”:
One medley these gentlemen performed of “Down Our Way; Sweet Adeline; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; and Wild Irish Rose” had such panache with flawless, modulating segues between each snippet of song.
Checkered Past, which consisted of four members of Capitolaires, then came forward and sang with a robust bass and a fabulous blend of tenor, lead and baritone. These guys were animated and captivating.
A few songs later, The Strang Quartet was introduced. A traditional guitar, a guitar that looked similar to a mandolin, a banjo, and a musical saw made up this band composed of Capitolaires members. They introduced this segment as a sing-a-long, and as the band began, we heard the opening chords of “You Are My Sunshine.” With the musical saw producing an eerie, high-pitched sound — almost like a human voice — the audience sang along with help from words projected upon the screens. We then sang “This Land is Your Land.” I couldn’t keep myself from laughing throughout this fun segment of the concert.
The next act began just as the last few Capitolaires left the stage. H.I.C.K.S. is one of the many quartets that is part of the barbershop show-chorus, Voices of California. They gave us a spectacular mini-concert. (See the attached program to get a visual of these guys—I do think they all may be part of a witness protection program.) The songs they sang had just enough twists of words and phrases to get us leaning over with deep belly laughs. One good example was their schtick of “Baby face... she fell in love with my baby face” in which their silly antics led to the demise of the poor pig on stage... “Just how you [cook] tonight.” Their musical talent shone in a gorgeous rendition of “Man of Sorrows.” It's a riveting, intriguing piece of music — difficult and marvelous — bringing back memories of having sung it with the Amador Choraliers' men a few years back. These gentlemen made it their own. They left us with a unique H.I.C.K.S.-styled, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with the cleansing lyric, “singing seems to help our troubled souls.” I wrote in my notes, “My socks were blessed plum off my feet they were so good!”
After the intermission, the Capitolaires reclaimed the risers in more formal attire and presented more intricate songs for us to enjoy. Their motif of “When Everything Old is New Again” was re-echoed in big numbers like a barbershop styling of “Life Is a Cabaret,” full of grandiose swells and gorgeous scoops of chords. I loved the big finish. They then proceeded to Ricky Nelson's “Hello Mary Lou,” then to The Music Man's “Lida Rose” and finally to Les Applegate's 1924 barbershop standard, “Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby.” The Capitolaires were unstoppable. I sat back and simply enjoyed their barbershop style: sincere, melodic, buttery.
Next up... 4 lively, entertaining, gorgeous ladies hit the stage: Whatever 4. They gave us a fantastic showcase of talent. These gals are from the Sweet Adelines’ bouquet of vocalists, and this quartet delivered! In “I Love a Piano,” their “consonants melted between vowels of perfection” was what I jotted down feverishly. I couldn't read the rest — I took way more notes than I could read. I was simply entertained and loved the blend, bell-tones, and harmony they produced! Their spunk — with lively, lovely notes of joy — caught me by surprise. Outfitted in blue polka-dot, stewardess-like business skirts with matching executive blouses, these ladies each accented their sameness by wearing different colored gloves to correspond with their own, unique hat — all with flowers, feathers, and fabulousity! Their tantalizing version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was robust: full of oomph and power. “That Satin Doll” and “I Don't Wanna Walk Without You, Baby” were simply divine. I enjoyed their moments of whimsy and playful barbs at one another. The lead, tenor, and baritone blended to perfection; all built on the brilliant foundation of the bass.
The next act, the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society's "premier, next-generation, youth honor band": TNT (The New Traditionalists). Comprised of high-school-age magicians... er... musicians, these young adults jazzed up the stage with their larger-than-life sound. These “kids” made us blink twice and scratch our heads as they simply dazzled us. Frankly, they could teach a lick-or-two to jazz artists anywhere! (Horn players—you are on your way to the big-leagues, so drop a towel on stage — this won't be the last wooden floor on which you are afraid to clean your pipes!)
In closing, the Capitolaires returned to the stage bringing all the acts with them. There was a grand bow from everyone involved in this dynamic show of amazing talent. Thank you, Capitolaires, for such grace, showmanship, mentoring, and care. I certainly applaud your 70 years of community service through your amazing barbershop harmonies. Director Rhymer, I tip my hat to you and all your a cappella barbershop singers: you directed and they sang — without one piece of music in hand! This concert reminded me of a down-home, Southern Gospel concert where I may not have known each of the acts or choruses that were to take the stage, but that when I left... I felt like I left as family.
JR Keith has worn a variety of hats: director, soloist, small and large ensemble member, tenor/baritone, and event planner of choruses from Texas to California, such as FBC Frisco, TX; CCCC Jazz Choir; DBU Chorus; several mission/worship teams; Sanctuary 101; Collin County Community Choir; Turtle Creek Chorale; Dallas Symphony Chorus; Amador Choraliers; and the Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus.