The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Valley Concert Choir
Jingle Bell Bach! - December 16, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
It was a very rainy Tuesday night, but a nice crowd was present at the Arden Christian Church when the Sacramento Valley Concert Choir signaled the beginning of their concert by proceeding down the aisles to the risers at the front of the church. They were wearing all black outfits with red accents: ties, suspenders, shawls, scarves, necklaces, etc. My first thought about this choir was joy to see their numbers. There were 66 of them. This was my first time to hear them perform, and I had been assuming they were a much smaller choir. Another surprise was the generous sprinkling of young (under 40) singers.
There are many interesting facts about the Sacramento Valley Concert Choir. For one thing, they have been in existence since 1969. For another, they are non-auditioned. That opens the door for singers of all abilities, but as I listened to them during the performance, they didn’t sound like a non-auditioned chorus. (They sounded great.) One other notable thing about them is that they don’t have the performance schedule of the typical chorus. As their website explains, their principal purpose is “to provide musical entertainment as a service to charitable, religious, community, and educational institutions, as well as to retirement residence facilities.” Many of these performances are private. In fact, tonight’s concert was one of only 2 public performances out of 7 in the month of December.
The concert began with a selection from Bach’s “Magnificat” (Magnificat in D, BWV 243). This was a difficult piece with a lot of runs that were well executed by the different voice parts. The group was clearly well rehearsed, and what’s more, they sang with spirit. Something else I noticed was the crispness of their delivery. It’s pretty clear that that traces to the animated and expressive directing of Jim Parr, Jr.
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The first piece had a piano accompaniment (masterfully done by pianist Jason Sia), but the next 3 pieces were performed a cappella. This is a risk for any chorus, but throughout the interesting arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and for the selections that followed, I didn’t perceive any sagging in pitch. That was good for the basses and altos who seemed to be singing near the bottom of their range. And although the basses and tenors of the chorus were significantly outnumbered by the sopranos and altos, I felt they held their own, with good balance throughout the concert.
The fifth piece on the program was an interplay between “Jingle Bells” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” and the choir’s fun in singing it was infectious. There were a lot of smiles and moving around, but in addition to the flair with which they sang, I was conscious of a good blend in the music they produced.
I’ll confess that my favorite piece of the night was “No One’s Perfect.” This was performed a cappella by a 16-member ensemble. The song was full of musical jokes, suggesting that even professional choruses can make mistakes. Allan Sherman’s lyrics referenced the Norman Luboff Choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, the Ray Charles Singers, and the Robert Shaw Chorale. That was all good for me and everyone else in the choir or audience who was over 60. But in a nod to the younger set, they had lyrics that referred to Ralph Hughes and the Sacramento Master Singers and to Donald Kendrick and the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra. They were respectful references but were an absolutely hilarious surprise. I should add that the song itself required the singers to hit sour notes in chords and make all sorts of musical gaffes. I think it must have been terribly difficult to do because these were clearly excellent singers: it’s hard for a good singer to sing badly.
After an entertaining performance of “Masters in This Hall,” chorus member Anita Jump came forward to introduce “Light One Candle.” It was essentially an explanation of the origin of this song and of Hanukkah, often called the Festival of Lights. After she finished, the choir, with piano accompaniment, performed this interesting piece, singing with passion, especially the often-repeated line “Don’t let the light go out.”
Next was an interesting arrangement of “O Holy Night,” with a hint of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Then the choir gave a reprise of the Magnificat that had started this brief, 45-minute concert. The festivities weren’t over, though. This public Christmas performance is a tradition for the Sacramento Valley Concert Choir, a tradition that includes a Christmas carol sing-along. Choir members dispersed into the audience, giving out words-only booklets of Christmas carols. Then with a choir member leading the singing and taking requests, and with Jason Sia still at the piano, we spent the next 20 minutes singing about 8 or 10 carols. It was great fun, topped off by refreshments and conversation in the nearby social hall of the church. In all, it was one of the nicest traditions of the season that I’ve encountered.