The Sacramento Choral Calendar
West Sacramento Community Singers
Capitol Rotunda Performance - June 30, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
The West Sacramento Community Singers are a non-auditioned chorus that typically performs at private venues, such as retirement homes, senior communities, and hospitals. I was lucky enough to catch their public performance this afternoon at the State Capitol Rotunda. It’s a popular venue for choruses at Christmas-time, and it provides some of the most flattering acoustics imaginable.
I listened to them rehearse before the start of the performance, and what I observed was a small chorus – 13 women and 6 men – all dressed casually. A hot Sunday afternoon in the summer is a hard time to draw a crowd, though from the rehearsal alone, I could tell that they would be singing music that would easily draw a crowd on a weekday with a lot of passers-by. As it was, there were only about 30 of us in the audience, and the Capitol staff kindly brought out folding chairs so we could sit through what turned out to be a 35-minute performance.
The program began with a lively rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” during which all the singers held their hands over their hearts. It was one of the best a cappella choral arrangements of the national anthem that I’ve heard. This was also the arrangement they sang at Friday’s River Cats game, and I’ll bet it really went over well with the crowd there.
Next on the program was the doo-wop classic “Book of Love,” which was followed by “High Hopes” from the 1959 film A Hole in the Head (that Frank Sinatra popularized), and the pop “Shoop Shoop Song” recorded by Betty Everett in 1964 and by Cher in 1990. This was fun, smile-while-you’re-singing music. And I don’t see how those who were watching could keep from smiling, too. Director Charles Vail was a genial and enthusiastic spokesperson, announcing each piece and giving background on it.
A lot of the singing was in unison or 2-part. But these people produced a very listenable, unified sound, especially from the women, and occasionally I could hear some very good individual singers. Later in the program, when there was more multi-part harmony, it wasn’t always tight, and occasionally, I thought I could hear intonation problems among the men. But the Capitol Rotunda was a very forgiving venue, and I honestly enjoyed everything I heard.
This is a happy group of people; even their brief rehearsal before the performance was lively and full of laughs. And that spirit carried over to their concert. I got the feeling that these people are in this group for the pure love of singing, and Vail not only allows the joyfulness to show – he stimulates it. In fact, I’d say he’s one of the most joyful directors I’ve seen. And his energy was reflected in the body language and faces of the singers. In fact, the faces of some of the singers I saw this afternoon seemed almost to go beyond joy to ecstasy – it was quite disarming.
As they proceeded to a George M. Cohan medley, it struck me how well-rehearsed the group was. Their entrances and cut-offs were sharp, and tricky rhythms were well synchronized. Of course, a lot of that was due to Vail’s spirited and sharp directing. Next was ABBA’s “Thank You for the Music,” and from this point to the end of the concert, I thought I heard a lot more multi-part singing. I should note that everything they sang was by memory and of course, a cappella. It made me think about the difficulties with flatting that I’ve experienced in groups I’ve sung with when we’ve tried to sing a cappella. No problem for these people: they had far too much energy to go flat.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was, for me, a high point in this brief concert. It was beautifully, even sensitively performed. I have strong memories of the recordings of this piece by The Tokens and The Kingston Trio, and this afternoon’s rendition sent me on a pleasant journey down memory lane (as did so much of their repertoire).
The program continued with the 1936 hit “The Glory of Love” and the almost contemporary “Java Jive” (1940). Then we were treated to an arrangement of “God Bless America” that was energetic and moving, starting with a segment of “America the Beautiful.”
The gospel song “Operator (Information, Get Me Jesus on the Line)” was an appropriate finale for this group. It starts with a series of big chords followed by rests, and that allowed the harmony to really ring as the sound echoed in the Capitol Dome. The soulful solo by Cammi Seigle brought out the gospel character of the piece, and it wasn’t long before all the listeners were clapping in time to the music.
I love to see people singing for fun, expressing uninhibited joy. And I have great respect for those whose musical talent gives people such an outlet. What a gift to those lucky enough to witness such a display, and I felt enriched to be one of the recipients of such a gift today.