The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Reconciliation Singers Voices of Peace (RSVP)
Open Doors - May 19, 2017
by Dr. Jeff Nelson
Reconciliation Singers Voices for Peace (RSVP) has a unique and refreshing mission, which is to bring people together through the arts and give back to the community. They don’t charge a fee for their concerts but heartily endorse donations for each charity for which they perform. This concert, entitled “Open Doors,” was a part of a series benefiting St. John’s Program for Real Change, an organization that began at Sacramento’s St. John’s Lutheran Church and which is designed to change the lives of women and their children living in crisis. (Please see the program link below for the welcome remarks of RSVP's President in which he gives more complete information about the charity.)
For those not familiar with parking in downtown Sacramento, I found it extremely helpful to use Dick Frantzreb’s parking information for a no-hassle easy and FREE parking experience for this venue. The free parking garage is on K Street between 17th and 18th on the south side of the street. You can find parking info in the Sacramento Choral Calendar just by clicking under the heading of the Location column on the Calendar’s main page.
A diverse audience had gathered on this evening at St. John’s, which donated their location for the concert venue. I have always loved coming to St. John’s to hear the Bedient Opus 80 organ played wonderfully by one of our own local treasures, Ryan Enright. However, this night was going to be very different in style and content. The stage setup had a small upright bass/drums and cajon at stage left and a beautiful parlor grand Bösendorfer piano also at stage left. The steps to the altar were used instead of traditional risers. The pews were very comfortable with bench cushions.
RSVP’s director, Jennifer Reason, is now in her 3rd year after taking over from the group’s founder, Julie Adams (of CSUS fame). At the beginning of the concert, they dedicated a moment of silence for one of their long-time volunteers, Jim Piper, who passed away this week.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The concert opened with 4 men and 10 women in a soulful a cappella rendition — in choral “shotgun” formation — of “Sister, My Sister.” There were multiple female solos and duets and the male tenor solo by Andy Michael Paul was clear and clean-sounding. The percussion balance from Anders Swanson on the drum kit and Jeremiah Jacks on cajon was sensitive and a good balance for this piece, even though the hall had extremely live acoustics. For the rest of the concert, any lower end on the percussion (toms and bass drums) tended to get a bit muddy in this room, and I’m not sure if there was anything Steve Walker, the sound technician, could have done to make it sound better on tonight’s recording. I’m sorry the audience couldn’t take full advantage of the wonderful mahogany-shelled Gretsch drum kit that Swanson was playing. It sounded great, but the room just wasn’t right for it.
In almost every piece on this program, RSVP would start with a pitch pipe or piano chord and then begin the piece a cappella and all from memory. You could easily tell these were musicians of the highest caliber. Reason would usually start the selection and then go back into the formation to sing with the rest of the group with an occasional head nod when needed. This is a testament to how well-rehearsed this group is and how well they perform together. She also mentioned that when she used social media to get the word out about original music she might use for this cause, she was flooded with original compositions to preview at no charge.
“No Mirrors in My Nana’s House” was a crisp and bouncy jazz piece with a lot of syncopated, punchy rhythms. It was very well done even though some of the rhythmic punch was lost due to the acoustics of the room.
Then, to my surprise, 5 more men came onstage and joined the group for a wonderful Bob Chilcott arrangement of “Yesterday” by Lennon/McCartney. This arrangement reminded me a lot of the style of Gene Puerling. Two wonderful male solos by Grant Mulligan (tenor) and Andy Michael Paul (tenor) rounded off this song nicely.
The modern (2004) a cappella arrangement of “Ave Maria: A Choral Prayer” by Jessica Franchi had beautiful cascading suspended chords throughout.
This evening also showcased the debut of “Wildfire” by the Fullbright award-winning composer, Julia Seeholzer. It, too, was sung a cappella. Its tossing of the melody back and forth throughout the chorus left a chilling effect and finished with some beautiful suspended 7th chords. Reason then sat at the piano to accompany the 8-woman chorus and Noreen Barnett, soloist, for “Evelyn’s Song” by Henry Mollicone. It was notable to me that Reason really made the Bösendorfer sing for this piece, which was performed almost entirely in the dark, so she must have memorized the accompaniment. Reason's technique was wonderfully suited to such a beautiful sounding instrument.
The next selection was “Song of Survival,” by Margaret Dryburgh and Norah Chambers, written to commemorate the ordeal of women in a WWII prison camp in Sumatra. The prisoners were mostly orchestral musicians, and to keep their minds alive, they would sing their instrumental parts. This was performed by the RSVP women a cappella and in was immediately followed by Dvořák’s familiar “Largo” melody from the New World Symphony on “ooh.” It was moving and powerful!
After a brief explanation of the charity by one of its representatives and a testimony from one of its recipients, it became clear that this is an extremely valuable service to our community. Anyone interested in finding out more about Real Change is encouraged to contact Sasha Wirth at (916) 453-1482. They are hoping to raise enough funds to add 90 new beds to their facility. The theme song for Real Change is “The Red Door Song,” which featured the combo team of Casey Lipka on upright bass, Joshua Ray on guitar, and Jodi Serrano on acoustic guitar.
“How Can I Cry?” featured a different bass player, Eric Rosander, and started with a sultry bass/rhythm section line. The women supported soloist Karen Percy, who delighted us with a very free-sounding scat solo in the middle of the piece.
It was then the men’s turn to do some ‘men only’ work, and we were treated to the 9 men singing quartet parts a cappella in a Stephen Foster song, “Gentle Annie.” Matt Hidalgo was the guest tenor soloist for Roger Wagner’s arrangement here, and he had a pure and pleasing tone with a soaring finish after the final key change. As nice as that was, they really let loose on “Sherry,” the hit from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. This is where Hidalgo showed his outstanding command of the higher range. Again, Reason accompanied on this piece, and it was obvious she is confident in any style.
The whole choir then joined in an a cappella rendition of “Jenny Rebecca,” the old Barbara Streisand pop ballad. “I Am Not Yours” by poet Sarah Teasdale followed in an arrangement by Randall Stroope. His arrangement was reminiscent to me of the style of another Randall, Randall Thompson, with a rich and warm chordal structure culminating in very broad chords and then ending in breathless unisons.
I enjoyed “Fine,” led by soloist Allison Kanemoto. Her rich tone and fluidity of range was a perfect match for this song. The vocal percussion by Eric Rosander was also very cool.
Reason returned to the piano to accompany the choir and combo in “For Elizabeth.” The celebratory finish of this piece culminated in a rousing pair of scat solos by Percy and Serrano. I felt that if I closed my eyes, I could almost hear Carole King (Serrano) and Ella Fitzgerald (Percy) tossing scat solos back and forth to each other. What a treat!
RSVP performs two seasons per year; one in December and one in May. It takes a very well-rehearsed group to step out in an almost all a cappella format with all music memorized and be as tight as they were tonight. I will be looking forward to their next concert in December!
Dr. Jeffrey Nelson as born in Seattle, WA and began studying music at the age of 5. He has sung in chamber, popular and theatrical groups and played in orchestral, jazz, symphonic and marching bands throughout his career. He also toured in Europe with the US Army for four years as a vocalist, instrumentalist and choreographer with the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus based in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied and worked with Fred Sautter and James DePriest (Oregon Symphony) and Dr. Bruce Browne (Portland Symphonic Choir) while studying Brass Performance and Conducting at Portland State University. He also studied with Anthony Plog (LA Philharmonic) and was a studio freelance trumpet and vocal artist in Los Angeles before moving with his wife Jennifer to Northern California. He has held conducting positions for Cantare Chorale, Gold Rush Men's Chorus and has been a guest conductor in D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Toronto, Canada with the VA National Medical Musical Group based in Washington, D.C. He currently teaches private instruction in trumpet, voice and guitar in Placerville, CA and is a music director for Church of the Foothills in Cameron Park.