The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Grass Valley Male Voice Choir
Inspiration - April 22, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
Every concert is special because of the work that goes into preparing it, the anticipation of the audience, especially family and friends — but this concert was different: a recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir. I’ve seen a number of anniversary concerts, but from what I saw this afternoon, I can say that the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir is one that really knows how to make the most of an occasion like this.
It all began with an enthusiastic audience welcoming the choir members with applause as they entered. Then director and founder, Eleanor Kenitzer, thanked us for helping them celebrate. As they performed the first selection, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I could hear nearby people humming: the atmosphere in the Sierra Presbyterian Church this afternoon was that informal and welcoming.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
That first piece began the concert’s theme of “inspiration,” and much of what followed was, indeed, inspirational, inviting the audience to reflect on our life’s journey — what we’ve learned and what we’ve discovered to be important. So that none of the impact of the most inspirational pieces could be lost on us in the audience, the lyrics of the songs that would be unfamiliar were printed in the program.
That was the case with the next selection, “Things That Never Die.” With so many of us — on the risers and in the audience — far closer to the end of life than to its beginning, the lyrics of this song were profoundly moving. I have to add that if I had been one of the singers, I could not have made it through the song without emotion cutting off my ability to sing.
The next piece was a medley of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Assistant Director Darrell Crawford announced that it was dedicated to the women in the audience, and listening to it, I can honestly say I’ve never heard this group of men sing better. To emphasize the point, a woman sitting in front of me gave her husband on the risers a thumbs up as the song completed.
Then GVMVC President David Loofbourrow came forward, commenting that the Grass Valley community is the “wind beneath the choir’s wings.” And with that, he asked representatives of a number of community organizations with which the Choir has partnered over the years — and who had been invited to be present — to stand up or raise their hands and be recognized. Then the GVMVC treasurer stepped up to report on donations that the Choir had made in recent years to various community organizations.
Loofbourrow went on to introduce the next song, “Though Much Is Taken, Much Abides.” In doing so, he noted the line from the song, “Though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.” Then he added, referring to the Choir, “we can’t build, but we can sing,” and it seemed to me that the emotion in that thought made him cut short his introduction. As the singers performed the piece under Crawford’s direction, it struck me that it didn’t matter how well the piece was sung. Most of us in the audience were in some stage of retiring from life’s activities. And each of us was carefully following the lyrics in the printed program, drinking in the words: “With each breath, we are granted life again… made weak by time and fate but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
When Kenitzer returned to the podium to resume leading the Choir, she began by asking the wives of the singers who were in the audience to stand. Then after they were seated again, she said, “Thank you for allowing me to have a love affair with your husband.” She went on to thank current accompanist, Karen Driscoll, as well as several past accompanists. Then she led the singers in a rousing, toe-tapping arrangement of the spiritual, “If I Have My Ticket.” It was a nice change from the intense emotional appeal of the preceding music, and was so fun that someone shouted out “One more time” as the piece concluded. The next song, “Soon and Very Soon,” was also a spiritual, with a more gentle beat and a call-and-response section that generated enough excitement to get whoops of enthusiasm from the audience.
Next on the program was “Homage,” which Kenitzer explained as having been written in memory of 3 fathers, though she saw it as “in memory of a lot of people who have touched our lives.” Still, this “song of remembrance,” as she referred to it, was, to me anyway, clearly about the relationship to one’s father. Take a look at the words in the program, and you’ll see what I mean. As I scanned the Choir while they sang, I thought I could see emotion in a lot of their faces. Men tend to have strong, complex memories of their fathers, and a song like this can be cathartic, not just for those on the risers, but for all of us in the audience. Their singing forced us to follow the words carefully, and glancing around me, I saw eyeglasses temporarily removed. When the song concluded, Kenitzer said, “If that wasn’t emotional enough for you, just wait.”
We didn’t have to wait long because the next song, “Inscription of Hope,” was based on words found written on the walls of the cellar of a house in Cologne, Germany where Jews had been hiding from Hitler’s forces. Check the program for these words, too, which include: “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining… And I believe in God even when He is silent.”
It was no time to put one’s Kleenex away because the next song, “We Rise Again,” with fine solo work by John Darlington, included lyrics like these: “We rise again in the faces of our children. We rise again in the voices of our song.” The mood was hopeful, almost exultant, and there was an a cappella section that was delivered very effectively.
Before the last song in the first half of this concert, we got a history lesson — a recounting of how Cornish miners immigrated to Grass Valley soon after the discovery of gold, bringing their love of choral music with them. You can read the full history in this organization’s website, but the upshot is that the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir has inherited the tradition of those early Cornish choirs.
The history lesson evolved to a recognition of the Grass Valley area’s music organizations and church choirs, and recognition of this group’s past presidents. Then past members were invited to come to the risers to join the present ensemble in singing the theme song that usually ends their concerts, “What Would I Do Without My Music.” Nine past members came forward and the piece was performed from memory and with passion.
After intermission, it was not the full choir that returned. Rather, it was 17 of the 18-member Cornish Festival Choir that would be on its way to the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival in just 2 days. We learned that theirs would be the only American group participating in the festival, which, we were told, was the largest male voice choral festival in the world. (Visit http://www.cimvcf.org.uk and see for yourself.) Kenitzer explained that they had decided to perform primarily American music, and you can see most of their repertoire in the attached program. After listening to them, I’m sure they will do well in representing the USA, and I bet that their medley of Four Seasons songs (Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man) will bring down the house in those British venues, as it did for this afternoon’s audience.
The last piece by this Cornish Festival Choir was “Pader Agan Arluth,” which is the Lord’s Prayer in Cornish. The interesting thing about this piece is its history. Kenitzer was given the music by a well-wisher m,any years ago, only to find that choirs in the UK don’t know the piece, such that Kenitzer has become a major advocate for it there. After it was performed for us this afternoon, I heard more than one comment of “beautiful” from people near me, and I have to conclude that it’s music that deserves wider exposure.
There was more talk about Grass Valley’s and the Choir’s Cornish heritage, plans to rekindle sister-city arrangements, and a few words from the Grass Valley mayor, after which people of Cornish heritage were asked to rise and be recognized. This idea of Cornish heritage was further emphasized in the almost-final piece of music, “Take Me Home,” which included the lyric “I remember the face of my father as we walked home from the mine.” Honestly, I was surprised to see how many of the now full-choir members sang it from memory.
The climax of the concert was provided by a piece introduced as the informal Cornish “national anthem.” It was sung in English, and I was told that the title was “Trelawney.” It ended with a rousing yell (in Cornish) — a fitting end for an afternoon full of inspiration, celebration, passion, and reflection.