The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Placer Pops Chorale
American Tapestry - May 18, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
Lorin Miller knows how to put on a crowd-pleasing show. This latest concert of his Placer Pops Chorale (formerly the Sierra Community Chorus) was no exception. I saw them perform in the 450-seat Dietrich Theatre at Sierra College in Rocklin, but they also perform at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College.
The first arresting sight in this experience was the elderly people hobbling into the theater, and coping with the many steps of the auditorium – people with walkers and canes, holding onto their spouse or an usher for support. That’s not to say that this show appeals only to the elderly – there were plenty of younger, even young, people in the audience. But the obstacles that the elderly had to endure to come to this show demonstrate how much they love the music. It’s lively. It’s familiar. It’s life-affirming.
Most of the spring shows of the Placer Pops Chorale (PPC) are drawn from the Great American Songbook, and so this program consisted of medleys of the music of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein – as well as a couple of American standards, the spiritual “Deep River” and the folk song, “Shenandoah.” (Click here for key pages of the program.) The arrangements were lively and engaging, often the kind of thing that gets one toe-tapping. Occasionally I could even pick up the sound of fellow audience members humming along.
A lot of the energy of the performance came from the 10-piece band (piano, drums, keyboards, bass, trumpets, saxophone and flute). But the sound of the chorus was what made the show. Lorin Miller has a sharp ear and high standards for getting his people to produce an excellent choral sound, and this show, like others in recent years, delivered on that score. The tone, blend and balance gave a consistent quality sound. I should add, though, that there were microphones in abundance, and the sound ultimately delivered to the audience (in every part of the theater) was due in significant degree to the skill of the audio engineer, Robert Johnson of Sierra Professional Audio & Video in Sacramento.
But there was a lot more to this experience than the choral sound, pleasing as it was. There were a lot of incidental solos in the various medleys, involving a dozen or more soloists from among chorus members. They sang beautifully – some spectacularly – but beyond that, they performed. The serious acting was natural, not excessive, and in at least one case so effective as to draw gasps from the people seated behind me. And every solo drew spontaneous applause from the audience. There was great comedy and a bit of choreography, too, in both solos and segments of the performance of the full Chorale. The opening number, Gershwin’s “Clap Yo’ Hands,” with rhythmic clapping by the chorus, drew not only applause, but cheers, from the audience.
A lot of the magic which this group worked with its audience came from the personality which they projected. They were animated and engaged, and the music selection gave them many opportunities to connect with the audience on an emotional level. A lot of this was due to the fact that, since last spring, the PPC has performed all its programs from memory.
And that connection with the audience was especially noticeable in the two pieces (“Deep River” and “Shenandoah”) which were performed with the chorus surrounding the audience, singing from the aisles in mixed parts. Dietrich Theatre provides an intimate environment in that way, balancing some of the advantages of the PPC’s other venue: Three Stages.
These concerts always seem to have a special element, and this time that took the form of a flute solo by Alice Lenaghan, accompanied by pianist, Patricia Leftridge. They performed “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar, which was popularized by its use in Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War. This beautiful piece had a Celtic sound, very appropriate for the fact that the PPC will be touring in Ireland this summer.
Lorin Miller interacted with the audience at various points in the program, and his pleasing, informal manner was another factor contributing to the intimacy of the PPC’s performance. All these performance elements – quality sound, familiar program, variety, a bit of choreography and acting – have created an experience that has built a loyal following, drawing nearly 2000 people to the PPC’s spring shows and about 3000 to its Christmas performances. Hundreds of people call at the stroke of 9 a.m. on the first day of ticket sales to ensure that they won’t miss out.
Those loyal fans were in evidence this Friday evening. At various points in the program, there was not only applause, but cheers and whistles, and at the end everyone was on their feet. Those people who struggled to get to this performance with their walkers and canes were not disappointed – nor was anyone else.