The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Harmony! From Barbershop to Baroque - April 6, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
The Sacramento Capitolaires presented a very diverse program for their annual cabaret show, held on a Saturday afternoon in the Parish Center of St. Ignatius Church in Sacramento. It was a festive affair, with a generally animated audience seated at round tables, with dessert and drinks (beer, wine, coffee and soda) at a modest price and ample free nibbles (popcorn, peanuts, etc.). Like so many such events, it was also a fund raiser, with a silent auction and a raffle of gift baskets.
Emcee Bill Gale played his role with class and humor, starting with an explanation of barbershop singing and then giving background on each song. This was especially helpful because there was no song list in the printed program. (Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The Sacramento Capitolaires fielded 22 singers, with the director duties shared by Ron Black and Randy Finger. It was clearly a mature group (3 men supported themselves with canes), though there were clearly a number of younger members. Though I’m not sure of the titles of some of the songs in the first part of their program, I believe they were: Cabaret, The Good Old Days, When My Baby Smiles at Me, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Taking a Chance on Love.
With just 22 singers, they didn’t make a big sound, but the acoustics of the room were favorable, and I was conscious of a good blend and balance. As is the case with all the barbershop performances I’ve seen, they sang without music, and their articulation was such that I was able to make out every word. This isn’t a showy group, as is the trend in barbershop presentations, especially those designed for competition. This performance had very little in the way of “choreography” or movement by the singers, but they produced a solid barbershop sound. And even more importantly, they conveyed the fun of barbershop, with lively faces and lots of smiles. There was a lot of humor, too, especially that provided by Emcee Bill Gale who had some good jokes and came up with lines like: “Singing is our fun way of working out” and “The insurance industry says that singing can add 18 years to your life.” This opening set featured a lot of sweet, old songs, presented in true barbershop style, every one ending with a flourish – a well-crafted, sustained chord.
The next part of the afternoon’s program was presented by the Davis High School Madrigals. Ordinarily, that group performs with 32 singers, but on this occasion we heard a mixed octet. They made quite a striking appearance in their costumes reminiscent of 15th or 16th century England, and as they entered, they were greeted with extended applause. These young singers performed a set of 5 songs, 3 of which were in Latin. The names of the songs were pretty quickly announced, so the only names I could catch were “Adoramus Te” and “O Sacrum.” They sang without a director, though one young woman gave a starting pitch and signaled a cutoff at the end of each piece. These performers were as serious as their music, which was clearly challenging. Only for the piece introduced as a “modern madrigal” did they loosen up significantly, with smiles breaking out. Although the harmony was occasionally not tight and although I could occasionally perceive the immaturity of some of the voices, there were many highlights, including an ethereal soprano. I imagine the full choir would make a very impressive sound, indeed. The audience was especially encouraging and gave the group one standing ovation at the close of their set and another after the Gale had called them back to introduce themselves individually.
After intermission there was a brief audience singalong, followed by the entrance of The Ambassadors, a quartet of singers from the Capitolaires, with the tenor part sung by the wife of the lead. (There is extensive background on this and the following quartet in the printed program.) I’m not sure of the titles of the songs they sang, but I believe they were: Be My Little Good Luck Charm, Frog Kissin’, Treat Me Like a Fool, and Who Put the Bomp? It was fun music that resonated with the generally older crowd, who grew up with these songs. The last one was especially fun when a fifth singer came out dressed in a leather jacket and proceeded to perform the obbligato and speaking parts of the song.
Next up was the award-winning women’s quartet, Anticipation. They started with two songs prepared for the Sweet Adelines regional competition coming up in Reno later this month: Side by Side and Smile. Predictably, both included a lot of choreographed moves, sophisticated arrangement, and tight coordination in both harmony and rhythms. They went on to sing: I’ve Got a Crush on You, Rhythm of Love, and Let’s Live It Up – though I’m guessing at the titles because they were not announced. This very young group (except the mother-daughter pair) projected a lot of personality, and it’s easy to imagine them doing well in the competition.
One problem I had with both quartet performances was the way they were miked. There was a single microphone, and I believe its pattern was not wide enough to properly pick up the two singers on the outside of their formation. The result was what seemed to me an unbalanced sound for both quartets: strong sounds from the two singers closest to the mic; weaker sounds from those on the outside.
The Capitolaires returned to sing a medley honoring the various branches of the armed services, and veterans in the audience rose to applause when the part in the medley for their service branch began. It was a rousing tribute, and the only thing that could surpass it was the finale of the concert: a rendition of “God Bless America,” which got the audience on their feet singing along. Overall, we were treated to an afternoon of quality entertainment, with something for everyone.