The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Women's Chorus
Celebrate! 25th Anniversary Concert - March 9, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
This was an especially meaningful concert for the Sacramento Women’s Chorus, the 25th anniversary celebration of a group that almost folded in the middle of its journey. In recognition of the milestone, there were historical reminiscences, guest conducting appearances by three former directors, and presentation of songs that were loved favorites from years past. The design of the concert reflected the mission of the organization: “Sacramento Women’s Chorus is a diverse group of women building friendships and community through our love of music, dedication to musical excellence, and commitment to performing music reflecting the lives of women. We perform on behalf of all women, the environment, social justice, LGBTI equality, and the celebration of diversity.”
This was my first opportunity to hear the Sacramento Women’s Chorus, and as I listened, there was no question that this was a quality musical organization. These 35+ women of all ages sang with animation, they weren’t in or behind their music books, and I heard good articulation and was able to make out nearly all the words. For me, the choice of music was fresh and engaging, and it made for pleasant listening from the start.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
After a jazzy opening with “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” the next piece, “Lean on Me” (incorporating “We Shall Overcome”) had good blend and balance. But the most notable thing about this song was the spirit it conveyed: no one was stiff, everyone felt the music, and the rhythmic clapping emphasized the joy with which it was sung.
“Music in My Mother’s House” was the first of three pieces to be conducted by a former director. It was a sweet song, full of reminiscences. And it is apparently a traditional song for this group, and many were obviously singing it from memory, having sung it at memorials and other special occasions. Fortunately, the well-written lyrics came through clearly, and they were, indeed, moving enough to bring tears to the eyes of a sensitive person.
The traditional “How Can I Keep From Singing?” was sung a cappella in an arrangement that had interesting sections of fugue. This led to a bit of a disappointment, though, because although the full ensemble sound was excellent, the exposure of individual sections revealed some weaknesses, especially a thin sound from the high sopranos.
Certainly a highlight of this show was the guest appearance of the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus, which sang a set of four songs: three from their concert this past December, and one a preview of their ExtrABBAganza!, coming up in June. This music was presented from memory, and amply demonstrated their strong, rich sound.
The first piece, “How Could Anyone?” was delivered with the entire chorus signing the piece, and the lyrics continued one of the concert’s themes of the affirmation of self-worth. The signing got especially interesting when different sections were singing different words. Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night” came next and was presented with great sensitivity and a flawless choral sound. It was an interval of ineffable beauty, capped with a stunning decrescendo to a pianissimo toward the end of the piece.
“Go Light Your World” was the title song of their December concert, and it featured two soloists, a man and a woman. To me, the piece had a country sound to it, and it featured a long beginning duet, proceeding to a semi-chorus, and ending with everyone singing – to great effect. To me, the piece had professional styling that enhanced its inspirational quality.
“Dancing Queen,” a taste of their upcoming concert featuring the music of ABBA, was performed to a recorded track. It was over-the-top exuberant with constant gestures, many of which served as visual jokes. Despite the showmanship, it seemed to me that multi-part harmony was lacking in the arrangement, and I felt a little let down in the quality of the singing – but just a little.
In the second half of the program, the Sacramento Women’s Chorus gave, as they had during the first half, a performance full of personality and sentiment. I won’t comment on every piece in the interests of brevity, but there were some that clearly stood out.
“Chapel of Love,” the 1964 song by The Dixie Cups, was all about marriage equality. The chorus sang it with finger snapping, verve and smiles, and I couldn’t help smiling with them when they began replacing the line “we’re goin’ to get married” with the line “we’re goin’ to have a civil union.”
For me, and maybe for a lot of the audience, the highlight among the many good songs of the second half was “Bittersweet Tango.” Its clever, funny lyrics revolved around the line, “Give me chocolate or give me death.” Fortunately, the articulation was excellent, and we all laughed throughout the piece.
“A Woman’s Voice” was presented in a special, “world premier” arrangement by the group’s director (Robin Richie) and accompanist (Jane Viemeister). It spoke of women’s empowerment, and you could see that it might be a theme song for this chorus. The same could be said for the next song, “Singing for Our Lives,” which brought out the theme of gender equality, and included the line, “Gay and straight together, we are singing for our lives.” And apart from the emotional message, the singing itself was good.
The concert culminated with both choruses taking the stage to sing, “The Music in Me.” Their big, rich sound provided a triumphant finale to an afternoon that was as much a celebration as a concert.