The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Grass Valley Male Voice Choir
Melodies for Spring - May 11, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
The Sierra Presbyterian Church was nearly filled on this afternoon with an enthusiastic crowd of what I guessed were regulars, most well into their retirement years. They welcomed the 40-voice Grass Valley Male Voice Choir with extended applause as they entered to take their places on the risers.
I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I’ve seen more than one all-male choir directed by a dynamic woman, and that certainly describes Eleanor Kenitzer. Her directing was vigorous and precise, and she addressed the audience throughout the concert in a folksy style that put everyone at ease and often injected welcome humor. She introduced nearly every piece, and I found her explanations lively, articulate – and interesting.
After it was completed, she explained that the first piece, “Morte Criste,” was sung by every Cornish choir, and it had become a tradition for them because of the local Cornish heritage. This selection, of course, had a religious theme, as did much of the program. In fact, the second half of the concert was nearly all African-American spirituals. And as I listened to this piece I was immediately struck with how strong the first tenor section was – among the best I’ve heard. And the choir itself showed that they could produce an impressive, powerful sound when they all were singing.
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The presentation of the songs was fairly consistent throughout. The men sang from scores with piano accompaniment on nearly every piece. I noticed the good discipline of the chorus, especially in their sharp cutoffs. Clearly, everyone was paying close attention. Also, I feel I can tell true singers by their open mouths when they’re singing, and indeed, I observed a lot of open mouths this afternoon.
“Amazing Grace,” the second selection of the program, included moments of great warmth and richness of sound. Kenitzer’s introduction of the piece was particularly interesting to me in that it included a lot of background information that I had never heard before. I should also mention that she introduced the soloists for each piece. In general, I was not impressed by the soloists I heard, though there were a few exceptions, and what they may have lacked in vocal quality, they made up for in passion or showmanship, as the piece required.
It seemed to me that this is the kind of chorus that is first and foremost a social organization. They sing with spirit, and the camaraderie was evident on stage and in the reception after the concert, which was held in the church’s fellowship hall that, true to its name, abounded in good feeling and good food.
Back to the program, one of the many touching moments in this concert was in “Bright Morning Star.” It was the day before Mother’s Day, and it was announced that this selection was “dedicated to Moms here and absent” (i.e. passed on). This entire piece was a solo by David Loofbourrow, who gave a very creditable performance and touched a lot of hearts with lines like “Oh, where are our dear mothers and fathers?” and “They have all gone to heaven.”
I think I can say that there were many pretty songs presented this afternoon and many moments of really nice harmony. However, “Why We Sing,” the last selection before intermission, was something more. This was another of the favorite songs that are part of their regular repertoire and appear often in their performances. As they sang, it struck me that this is a sentimental group. Their passion really came out in this piece – and that feeling resonated with the audience.
After the intermission, guest soloist, David Lynn, joined the chorus for “Slow Me Down,” a rhythmic piece that featured a nice blend and a lot of energy. I believe this was the first of only 3 pieces sung a cappella.
As I mentioned before, the last half of the program was really all spirituals. In general, these were high-energy pieces that seemed to bring out the best in this group, and that provided fun listening for an appreciative audience.
The last piece, “What Would I Do” was an encore not listed on the program. To sing it, the choir spread out into the audience to give a spirited performance of “our song,” an inspirational piece that is apparently the usual closer for their programs. It had its intended effect. With so many singers close at hand, it was easy to understand the words, and most of us were moved by what we heard. As we made our way out of the church, I heard very many people around me say to one another how much they had enjoyed the concert.