The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Golden Jubilee - May 3, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
I had never heard the Amador Choraliers, and at first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the long trip from Roseville to Ione for the first concert in their latest concert series. But am I ever glad I made the effort!
I quickly discovered that this is a special group of singers and support people: this concert series was a celebration of their 50th anniversary. Is there any other choral group in this area – or in the state – that can boast such a long history? And how can you stay in operation for that long, with the inevitable coming and going of directors and singers and people willing to play the organizational roles? My theory is that there has to be a bond among participants that goes beyond the joy of making music together, a bond that comes from a deep caring about each other and willingness to get involved in each other’s lives as true friends. I thought I saw that manifested in this first of three anniversary concerts.
The 23 singers entered in essentially formal dress: the men in tuxes with gold bowties, the women all in black, with gold scarves. There was a screen above the risers with a projected image that changed to reflect the theme of each song. They began with “One Voice”: a single singer, joined by another, and then another until the whole chorus was singing with “one voice” – and that really was the way it seemed because they produced an excellent choral sound, helped perhaps by the intimacy of Ione's small Cornerstone Church. And in this stirring beginning piece, they demonstrated surprising power.
(Click here to open the concert program in a separate window.)
The rest of the program consisted of favorite songs of the past 60 years: popular music you might have heard on the radio, songs from the movies and Broadway, spirituals and gospel tunes, patriotic songs, and some novelty numbers that defy categorization. It made for a varied show that never lost its energy and kept the audience engaged. There was also great variety in presentation throughout the evening: 4 different directors, a men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, a women’s barbershop quartet, a duet with 2 women, and solos – both incidental and for a whole piece, with soloists that were quite good. The arrangements were typically fresh, as you could tell from the names scattered throughout the program: Mac Huff, Kirby Shaw, Mark Hayes, and Ed Lojeski. And some of these pieces really rocked – like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” The attribution on the program for this piece was “Thesaurus Musicus 1744,” but, to me, that didn’t make sense for this energized version of the piece we all sang in grade school.
I was especially impressed by the fact that the whole program was memorized, and usually accompanied by synthesizer and bass, with an occasional recorded accompaniment track. The MC (husband of one of the singers) provided some gentle humor, reading from a script that gave insights into the group and its history, as well as background on the music about to be sung. At one point the MC said “Can you believe it: all this talent in our own back yard.” Exactly. Talent is not limited to the big metropolitan areas. It was quickly apparent to me that this is an excellent chorus that knows how to put on a great show.
Another point to make is that this is not a chorus that is open to all comers. They have high standards, and you could hear it in the blend, even in the numbers when just the 7 men were singing. And throughout the whole show, I never had trouble making out the words being sung. Maybe it was helped by the fact that so many of the songs were familiar, but it can’t take away from the fact that these people sang with good articulation.
One element that pushes a choral program over the top in terms of its entertainment value is humor, and there was a lot of humor in this show. The first example that really hit me was the cute “Alto’s Lament” by William Bowlus, which I had never heard before. It begins with the lyric “Why do altos always seem to get stuck with all the crummy parts,” and the one-quarter of you singers reading this know that’s true. The Amador Choraliers performed this with a big gap between sopranos and altos on the risers, along with gestures and facial expressions that emphasized the humor of the song. Gradually, the ladies moved together. Through it all, I couldn’t stop smiling and often laughed out loud, along with the rest of the audience. This was followed by “We’re the Men,” which was essentially the men singers’ “lament,” and which was nearly as funny as the “Alto’s Lament.”
Occasionally, I perceived some light voices, and at one point I wished they had been able to recruit some truly low basses, but eventually it struck me that what set this program apart from so many others was the fact that every number was just brimming with personality. One good example was the gospel tune “Operator,” which really rocked with an excellent solo by sometime director, J.R. Keith. My notes on that piece tell the story: “Damn, that was fun!”
After a creative arrangement of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” that featured some outstanding keyboard work, the first half of the show ended with finger snapping and toe tapping to Mark Hayes’ “Fly Away Medley.” Many groups insulate singers and audience during intermission, but that wasn’t the case here. We all mingled for cookies and drinks in the church’s fellowship hall, and there was indeed a lot of fellowship going on.
There was no let-down in the second half of the program. If anything, the entertainment value of the show was amped up. It began with the chorus coming out with more colorful tops for the women, plus wigs and other costume elements for everyone. The idea was to evoke the 60s while the chorus sang the Three Dog Night version of “Joy to the World.” Then we had a visit from a very realistic Cruella De Vil while the chorus sang the song by that name from Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”
The comedy and acting continued with “Java Jive,” but things went completely over the top when six women entered wearing housecoats and pushing decorated walkers to sing “When I’m Sixty-Four.” They changed the words to “eighty-four” because I think at least a couple of them had reached sixty-four. The piece itself was nothing short of hilarious, with loads of comic touches.
Next, there was excellent singing and acting by Walt Parker and Tom Reed in the solo-oriented numbers, “Music of the Night” and “Ya Got Trouble,” which were followed by a rousing “Seventy-Six Trombones,” which included chorus members singing the simulation of a brass band. The last two selections, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and a medley of songs from “The Sound of Music” were probably a highlight of the two performances that were coming later in the weekend at Sutter Creek because they were to include alumni of the chorus.
Throughout the show, I was impressed by a consistently good tone, without prominent voices when an ensemble was singing. The one exception to this was the occasional welcome sound of a pure, high soprano. I don’t know what I expected of the Amador Choraliers when I made the commitment to go see and hear them, but they delivered more than I could have imagined.
Take a look at the program, and you can see how important the individuals are to this chorus: biographies of each singer, a list of everyone who ever sang with the group, a list of the alumni performing at the Sutter Creek concerts, and a tribute to members who have passed on. This is an organization with a soul.
So next time you see one of their concerts listed in the Sacramento Choral Calendar, take a chance: treat yourself to a pleasant drive in the country, maybe a meal in a new restaurant, and top it off with an entertaining concert from a group that is too good to overlook.