The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Valley Chorus
A New York State of Mind - October 26, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
The Sacramento Valley Chorus went to New York City last May to sing (by invitation) at Carnegie Hall. And they brought something back with them, something more than an “I © the Big Apple” T-shirt. It was a sense of confidence, an energy, a style that put this show over the top.
Unlike last year’s cabaret format, this performance had theatrical seating, emphasizing the New York theme. The chorus members started by coming down the aisles of the large, new theater at Sheldon High School, interacting with audience members as they went. They were creating the illusion that they were travelers in NYC, trying to find their way to Carnegie Hall. In fact that theatrical framework carried throughout the afternoon, with performers acting out little skits between songs that reflected snatches of their New York experience.
But the dramatic effects weren’t limited to these skits – they were inherent in the singing. From the very first number, “42 Street,” the chorus was brimming with energy and life. And for me, that energy just exploded with “Dancin’ in the Streets.” The excellent acoustics of the theater enhanced the blend of their voices, and the chords just rang.
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“Once Upon a Time” brought a drastic change in mood and delivered absolutely gorgeous harmonies. In these first three numbers, the singers demonstrated the power of their roughly 100 voices, but they also showed good control of the ups and downs of vocal dynamics, and I was especially impressed when they were singing softly.
I got to thinking, “These ladies don’t just sing a song, with the director keeping time. They deliver it with all kinds of decorations and embellishments that make it far more interesting.” And all that seems to come from Director Lynne Erickson, who is a dynamo of energy as she moves and practically dances in front of the group, helping everyone to feel the joy, excitement, -- whatever -- of what they’re singing. And feel it they do. It comes out in the frequent choreographed moves, but even without the choreography, no one is standing still. And the dynamism of each member of the chorus is evident in their faces and body language. It’s as though barbershop is the best drug discovered by man – a lift for the spirits with no side effects – and don’t you wish you had some. Actually, you get it, too. You can bring your cares and concerns to a Sacramento Valley Chorus show, but you can’t hold on to them for long. Pretty soon, you’re in a bright new world of music and positive energy, and you wonder who was that burdened person who came into the theater pretending to be you.
There are 6 of the younger members of the chorus who call themselves the Blue Divas, and they work up their own numbers, like the many quartets in this (or any) barbershop chorus. I have to say that, outstanding as all the full chorus numbers were in this production, the Blue Divas stole the show. They gathered around a small table set up at the center of the stage and sang “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” It was a cappella, of course (like all the singing this afternoon), but the amazing part was the percussion each of the singers provided by banging her two plastic cups on the table. And not just banging rhythmically, but reversing the direction of the cups, exchanging them between their hands, and trading cups with the singer at their side. The coordination was amazing, and that plus the lively singing made this the highlight of the show.
I got the feeling that I can come to hear the Sacramento Valley Chorus, and every time, I’ll see something I’ve never seen before. Another example of this was the screen behind the singers. The image on it changed changed many times during the afternoon, and the screen must have been something special because some of the images included sparkle effects that I haven’t seen before.
The first act after intermission was supposed to be the quartet, Flipside. But they were replaced (apparently a last-minute thing) by Vibrance. These four ladies presented an entertaining set with interesting arrangements and mellow sounds in a variety of styles – even a bit of humor. I wish, however, that each had her own mic, because regardless of what it said on the box about the pattern of the mic’s pick-up, I felt that the singers on the outside of the quartet formation (and they changed during the set) were overbalanced by the two in the center.
The chorus’s first song of the second half was another show-stopper, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. Looking around the performers – and they are as much performers as singers – I was again impressed by how animated all the faces were. There was no question they were having fun, and that fun was contagious. Then there’s the fact that most of this music is the kind you’d like to move to: that being the case, it’s tough sitting still in the audience.
Throughout this show the quality of the singing stayed constantly high, and it’s no wonder the Sacramento Valley Chorus is an award-winner. But there’s more to a performance like this than making a good sound. When the performers “feel it,” as these ladies obviously do, something extra, something special, something magical is communicated to the audience. That’s what gets people on their feet when a performance like this concludes, and it didn’t take us long to give them the standing ovation they had earned.