Grass Valley Male Voice Choir
My Love Is... - May 3, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
Director Eleanor Kenitzer set the stage for this concert in Nevada City's Sierra Presbyterian Church when she said, "Today, we're going to sing about love – all sorts of love." To me, right away that made it a concert of substance, dealing in many ways with a subject every listener could relate to. For all that followed, the 45 choir members sang from open scores with piano accompaniment. Kenitzer introduced each song or explained it afterward (except for the pieces led by Assistant Director, Darrell Crawford, who did those honors himself).
This chorus has a large, loyal following, and there was a sell-out crowd in this spacious church. Looking around at her singers, Kenitzer commented: "It's a tremendously wonderful group of men. I love them and the camaraderie. They look pretty damn good, too." The last was a reference to the new green sport jackets and matching ties that were inspired by the group's Cornish roots.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
In the very first piece "Over the Rainbow," I could make out the words clearly and lovingly sung, and this was the first of many points in the concert where I noticed the beautiful tone of the first tenor section. Then, about half-way through the first half of the concert, I came to realize that this is a men's chorus with a distinctive light sound, with more emphasis on sensitivity than raw power (so appropriate for the concert's theme). Indeed, there were numerous occasions when I was conscious of the artistic intensity of their soft passages.
When Kenitzer said they would sing about "all sorts of love," she wasn't kidding. After the lovely English ballad, "Think on Me," she introduced the next piece ("Down in the Valley") saying "Picture yourself in a saloon someplace .. in Nevada City before it had pasties." Her folksy humor and easy-going personality in speaking to the audience went a long way toward creating a comfortable, receptive attitude among the listeners.
All the songs in the first part of the program were nice, of course, but pretty tame until they got to "Summertime." Most of us are used to a gentle, dreamy setting of this piece. Forget it. This arrangement rocked, Kenitzer bounced as she directed, and accompanist Karen Driscoll played enough notes for a four-hand piano part. Then came an innovation for this choir: the debut of a 12-member ensemble who successfully delivered their two sweet tunes, "Down by the Sally Garden" and "Come in from the Firefly Darkness."
After the intermission, Assistant Director Darrell Crawford introduced what he called "a joyous hymn about dying." It was his own arrangement of "Shall We Gather at the River," and there was nothing amateurish about it. I felt it was an astounding effort, with a beautiful piano accompaniment, and a choral part full of variety, energy, and – joy. It was both rousing and inspired.
The next two pieces were even more distinctly religious in nature. "The Gift of Love" was the familiar Hal Hopson setting of I Corinthians 13 ("Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity..."). The choir must have been moved while they sang this piece because they moved me with the lovely harmonies. And then there was "Give Me Jesus," with guest soloist, Diane Carpenter. Kenitzer explained that they had "stolen" this arrangement from Mousehole Male Voice Choir in Cornwall during a visit there. It's well that they did, because this piece was exquisite. The choir part was mostly humming with very light piano accompaniment, and Carpenter was a delight to listen to, singing with great control and producing some thrilling high notes.
The next piece, "You Are So Beautiful," was a special expression of the concert's theme of "love," because Kenitzer asked the singers' wives to stand as she announced that the song was dedicated to them. The men sang this tender song with conviction – at least they convinced me – and followed it without interruption with the equally appropriate "Wind Beneath My Wings."
Next came yet another very special song, special because of the beautiful music and the touching lyrics, so touching in fact that I had to look up this unfamiliar song on the Internet: "It's not how many summertimes he had to give to fall / The early morning smiles we tearfully recall / What matters most is that we loved at all."
As if to keep up the momentum, the next piece was the much-loved "You Raise Me Up," featuring excellent solo work by David Loofbourrow and Jerry Maloney. And then there was yet another inspirational song, "We Rise Again" with a touching lyric "We rise again, / In the faces of our children, / We rise again, / In the voices of our song" – made all the more poignant by the gray heads in the choir and in the audience.
The concert ended, as do all concerts of the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir, with members in the aisles of the church, joined by alumni of the group, performing "What Would I Do Without My Music," an emotional cap to an event full of emotion. There were so many sweet, sweet songs in this concert, a fitting exploration of the many facets of love that make life worth living. I think all of us in the audience felt uplifted, and we showed it with an extended standing ovation.