The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Singing and Ringing - December 16, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
How would you design the perfect family Christmas concert? First, it shouldn’t be too long. Second, it should have variety. Third, there should be familiar Christmas music, with a fair amount of new music and fresh arrangements. And how about having the audience sing some of the much-beloved carols that are part of everyone’s most cherished memories of the season?
In this first of two concerts, the Davis Chorale checked all those boxes. The performance was just a bit over 45 minutes long. That was just right for the many children in the audience and maybe for the older folks, too.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
For variety there was the fact that two hand-bell choirs played a major role in “Singing and Ringing.” All or part of the members of the Davis Community Church Bell Choir and the Juuliebells from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis performed in 5 of the pieces on the program. There was even one song, “The Hills Are Bare in Bethlehem” that was accompanied by windchimes. That was a first for me. The effect was nice, but a little disconcerting because from where I was sitting, I couldn’t see the person “playing” the windchimes.
You can tell from that last title that the music was not all traditional Christmas fare. In fact, there were several pieces I don’t recall having heard before. Most notable among them were two pieces that celebrated Hanukkah: “Mi Zeh Hidlik” and “Hiney Mah Tov.” I was impressed that in such a short concert there would be a recognition that Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated at this season. And I was especially impressed that the chorus performed the songs in Hebrew (see the translations in the program — accompanied by Hebrew lettering, a nice touch). What’s more, each piece was delightful in a different way: the first was lovely and melodious; the second was performed with great spirit and sharp pronunciation of the Hebrew. The latter also had an air of fun about it that was felt by us in the audience.
I think this is the first concert where I’ve heard hand-bells played simultaneously with singing by a chorus. (I guess that shows my inexperience more than anything else.) Hand-bells give a distinctive, delicate texture to a piece performed this way.
Then there were 3 pieces performed solely by the hand-bells. I must say I find a hand-bell choir fascinating to watch, besides the fact that it's very pleasant listening. To me, it’s a major feat of coordination, and I noticed that the arrangements played this afternoon had a great deal of complexity and sophistication in them — at least they did to my inexperienced ear.
I haven’t said much about the chorus yet, but you could say I am saving the best for last. It’s been a couple of years since I heard the Davis Chorale perform, and I’d forgotten what a fine chorus this is. Almost from their first notes, I was impressed with the rich, unified, balanced sound they produced. Much of the singing was done a cappella, and the rest had only light accompaniment. There were times when I witnessed the surprising, yet controlled power of which they are capable. Although only a small sample of their excellence was on display this afternoon, they gave a refined performance, displaying a unified tone and diction that only come from conscientious work beforehand and commitment at the moment, all fostered by the high artistic standards of their director.
And speaking of Alison Skinner, tonight she was the perfect host, unpretentious and personable, explaining the elements of the program.
I think my favorite piece of the afternoon was the Calypso-style “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.” The Chorale performed it a cappella and from memory — necessary since there was some lively hand clapping at several points in the music. It was a high-energy arrangement, a real audience-pleaser, but it was also a sophisticated, difficult piece — a worthy challenge for a choir of this caliber.
I guess my second-favorite song was the closer: “Peace, Peace.” I’ve heard it before, and I love the inspirational lyrics. (Sorry, they’re not in the program.) It was performed with the audience singing “Silent Night” as a counter-melody — an interesting effect. I almost forgot to mention that a big part of the fun of this concert was the 3 sing-alongs of Christmas carols at different points in the program.
Enthusiastic applause from the audience closed this happy, low-key holiday celebration. Well, maybe the celebration wasn’t quite over. As we moved from the theater to the lobby of the Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, we were greeted with an extraordinary assortment of cookies and other goodies. And all of this was free — admission and refreshments — thanks to a Community Arts Grant from the City of Davis and underwriting by Jamie Madison and the Goodhome Group — a good investment by both organizations.