The Sacramento Choral Calendar
A Gift of the Heart
Homeland 2013 - June 28, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
As I was about to walk out the door to attend this event, the TV news was saying it was 103 degrees – at 6:00 p.m. So I’m asking myself: is this trip really necessary? An outdoor concert with the thermometer reading over 100? Necessary, maybe not. But I was in for a very pleasant experience.
I arrived 25 minutes early at the Auburn Library Garden Theater, and I was surprised to find most of the crowd already in place. The sloping grassy area was nearly filled with lawn chairs, picnics in progress, and groups of friends chatting. It’s hard to gauge a crowd like that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the total attendance was as high as 600 or even 800.
Although the annual "Homeland" concerts are produced by a separate organization, A Gift of the Heart, it is essentially a collaboration between the Placer Pops Chorale and Auburn Grace Community Church. The link between those two is Lorin Miller, who is Artistic/Music Director for the Placer Pops Chorale and Worship Pastor at Auburn Grace Community Church. There were a dozen other sponsors and contributors to this free concert, and their part was acknowledged during a break in the performance.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The performance began with the 22-piece orchestra playing John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare.” I was at the back of the “garden theater,” and the sound naturally appeared a bit distant, but unified and very listenable. Toward the end of this selection, the 56-member chorus entered and mounted the risers. This group was made up of elements of the Placer Pops Chorale, the Auburn Grace Choir, and a few other singers. They wore red tee-shirts over dark pants to complement the blue tee-shirts worn by the instrumentalists. Throughout the evening, they sang from scores, and the sound was as good as one might hope for from an outdoor concert. Sitting where I did, I heard them mostly through the speakers, and taking all that into consideration, I’d say the audience got a good choral sound.
The chorus’s first selection was “God Bless America,” which really got the crowd’s patriotic juices flowing I could even hear people around me softly singing and humming along. No wonder. It was a rousing arrangement with excellent orchestration. After this, Director Miller addressed the audience, welcoming them and offering an expression of his genuine patriotism. The subtitle on the program said it succinctly: “Celebrate the Glory of America!”
After Miller’s welcoming statements, the chorus sang Gustav Holst’s “Homeland.” Miller had advised us to “listen to the words: they’re fantastic.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make them out, and I doubt many in the audience could. They were printed in the program, but I didn’t hear an announcement of that fact nor notice them there (until after the concert), and it would have been nice to use them to follow along as the chorus was singing. At the conclusion of “Homeland,” the chorus left the stage and drifted into the audience.
Next was a parody of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars & Stripes Forever,” called “Scars & Scrapes,” performed by Alice Lenaghan on piccolo and Patricia Leftridge at the keyboard. It was a humorous pastiche made up of segments of “Stars & Stripes Forever” (with outrageously wrong notes) and snatches of a dozen other melodies, along with a bit of physical comedy. It had to be impossibly difficult to perform, and besides being genuinely funny, it was a virtuoso performance by both women.
The remaining three pieces – “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Mancini!,” and “In the Mood” – were instrumental arrangements with solid playing by the orchestra, and occasional outstanding solos. The audience seemed especially appreciative when they heard a familiar melody, but considering how far many people were from the stage and how modest was the overall volume level, I saw many people chatting while the playing was going on. And why shouldn’t they? We all quickly found that, with the garden theater mostly in shade after the first few minutes and an occasional gentle breeze, the heat was hardly noticeable. And the relaxing outdoor ambience, mellow music, and proximity of friends made conversation easy – and part of the pleasure of the experience.
Spoken words with orchestral background characterized much of the second half of the program. These words rang clearly throughout the audience and played effectively to the patriotism that brought us all together in the first place. The highlight of these 4 presentations, though, had to be the reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – again with orchestral background – by actor, Matt Davis, who was perfectly dressed as Lincoln, down to the stovepipe hat and the beard. He spoke clearly and slowly, and it may have been the first time in a long time that many of us had focused on all the words of that speech. The audience attention was rapt, and there may have been a tear or two in that crowd when he finished.
Another highlight of this section of the program was “Battle Hymn 2000.” This updated setting of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was a refreshing alternative to the Wilhousky arrangement that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir popularized in 1960 and that has since been so often performed by choruses. This new arrangement was simple and straightforward enough that I once again heard people singing along nearby, and the last refrain built to the triumphant finish that this piece seems to demand.
I should add that, as one would hope, no individual voices dominated in the choral sound that was projected to us. However, in this piece and occasionally earlier, I could hear a high soprano note in final fortissimo chords that was as perfect and pleasing a touch as a beautiful bow on a present – which all of this was, after all.
John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen” from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, was sung with choral “oohs” and “aahs” – a sobering change of pace from “Battle Hymn 2000.” And after another piece with reading and orchestral background, we heard “I Salute You,” featuring a 6-person women’s ensemble that gave an emotional recognition to those who have served in the armed forces.
This recognition of service was followed by another, Lloyd Larson’s “Tribute to the Armed Services.” This is now the fourth time I’ve seen this piece performed this season. It features the theme songs of each of the armed services during which those who have served in that branch are asked to stand and be recognized. Audiences love this opportunity to acknowledge military service, and so this performance, like all the others I’ve seen, was characterized by veterans (mostly of the Viet Nam era or earlier) proudly standing, while the audience applauded and then continued clapping in time until the next group of service veterans were recognized.
The finale of the concert was a medley of contemporary patriotic tunes followed by the “Star Spangled Banner,” upon the first notes of which the audience stood, some with hands on hearts, and many singing along with the chorus. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying musical patriotic celebration. No doubt that is why this crowd (and the following night’s crowd) would come out year after year, as I believe most have – 100-degree temperatures notwithstanding.