Sacramento Valley Choral Coalition
SacSings! - The Sacramento Choral Festival - June 13-15, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
The first Sacramento Choral Festival, nicknamed SacSings!, was held over the weekend of June 13-15, 2014 at the Harris Center for the Performing Arts at Folsom Lake College. It was essentially a collaborative effort among 20 adult, independent choruses in the greater Sacramento area. After an organizational meeting in July of 2013, a steering committee of chorus representatives began planning for the Festival. In October 2013, they incorporated as the Sacramento Valley Choral Coalition.
As one of the co-founders of SacSings!, I was so busy during the Festival that I saw little of it. Actually, no one could have seen the whole thing because there were simultaneous concerts during each of the concert times: Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. The simultaneous concerts were held in Stage One (865-seat capacity) and Stage Three (100-seat capacity). Despite the fact that I was able to observe only parts of most of the concerts, I'll try to describe the event from the audience's perspective.
Click here to open the Festival program in a new window.
Each concert consisted of five 20-minute "sets" of music by a chorus. There was great variety in the music because the choruses in each concert were diverse. Besides the different types of music presented (classical, barbershop, Broadway, pop, jazz, spirituals, folk, etc.), there were differences in the make-up of the choruses: men's vs. women's vs. mixed, accompanied vs. a cappella, and eight to 80 singers in a given group. But the differences don't end there: some choruses displayed some form of choreography; some even used props. And there were a few cases where songs were presented so creatively that they amounted to dramatizations of the music.
Each concert was hosted by an emcee. Dr. Donald Kendrick, Founder and Director of the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra was the emcee for the opening night concert in Stage One, though SCSO was not one of the choruses participating in the Festival. (See the program for the other emcees.) Each emcee typically gave a brief, scripted introduction to each chorus. Individual songs were typically introduced, either by the emcee or by the director or a member of the chorus.
The experience provided by the two theaters was quite different. Stage One was kept dark, and the audience was somewhat distant from the performers. The stage itself was large (sometimes dwarfing the chorus), and despite the shell that surrounded the singers, there was some sound reinforcement. Stage Three was completely different: fully lit, with the audience close to the stage, and no sound reinforcement. It was not needed because the acoustics of the room were near-perfect and exceptionally flattering to all who performed there.
I won't attempt to critique or analyze individual choruses. However, with just a 20-minute set to impress their audience, you can bet that that music was carefully planned and extensively rehearsed before each chorus took the stage. I spoke with many audience members (and chorus members), and I would say that the most common reaction I got was surprise (even shock) at the exceptional quality of the performances they witnessed – especially from groups they had never even heard of. That was the whole purpose of the Festival: to serve as a showcase for choruses that don't get much publicity, that perform in a distant city, or that perform a style of music that one might not typically seek out.
Although 20 choruses sounds like a lot, there were many organizations – perhaps as many as 8 or 10 adult, independent choruses – that didn't participate in the Festival. The reasons were numerous: conflict with a tour, too many members unavailable because of vacations, unwillingness to engage in an event on Father's Day weekend, etc. And there were, no doubt, choruses that considered themselves so well-established that they didn't need a "showcase" for their work. And besides the adult, independent choruses, there are church choirs, children's choruses, high school and college choirs that were not part of this Festival.
The Festival drew as many participating organizations as it did partly because the timing was auspicious. The spring choral season (April and May) was over. Music had been learned for earlier concerts. There were no competing choral events. And vacations (for the most part) hadn't started.
So what made this a "festival," rather than a series of concerts? One might say that the participation by so many choruses and multi-day nature of the event was enough to earn it the designation of "festival." But there was more. Besides the 16-foot banners welcoming people to "SacSings! - The Sacramento Choral Festival," there were the 26 display tables in the lower and upper lobbies of Harris Center. Most of these represented participating choruses – with sign-up sheets for mailing lists and auditions, CDs for sale (or free), pictures, brochures, and other information about the chorus. There were also displays by non-participating choruses, children's choruses, the Threshold Choirs (live singing in hospice and other situation where comfort is welcome) – along with a few other organizations.
Then there was the ad hoc singing. Most of it was chorus-to-chorus backstage, but on Sunday afternoon, Daniel Paulson, director of Vox Musica invited women in other choruses to sight-read a new piece of music in the upstairs lobby before the doors had opened to the public. The sight-reading session was so fun for participants and so engaging to those who heard it, that it was repeated after the doors had opened – to the delight of everyone. Actually, the music was almost continuous because before and after the concerts and during intermissions, the Harris Center's sound system played choral music throughout the facility – recordings of the music of participating choruses that would be performing at other concert times.
SacSings! 2014 ended with pleas from singers and audience members alike that it be repeated next year, and though plans are far from firm as of this writing, Harris Center is reserved for June 12-14, 2015. You can monitor plans as they develop on the website, http://www.sacsings.org. And pictures of the event are at http://sacsings.smugmug.com.
Dick Frantzreb is Editor of the Sacramento Choral Calendar. He was also Executive Director of SacSings! 2014 and President of the Sacramento Valley Choral Coalition.