Sacramento City College
Collegiate Sing! - March 25, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
"Collegiate Sing!" was a first-time event, an intra-district choir concert for the 4 entities of the Los Rios Community College District: American River College, Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College, and Sacramento City College (which, sadly, has no body of water from which to take its name).
Daniel Paulson, of Adjunct Professor of Voice and Choral Music at Sacramento City College, was the host of event and gave brief words of welcome, noting the significance of the collaboration as "a night to see our learning and education in action." He then introduced senior staff members of the college, who eventually introduced the District’s Chancellor, Dr. Brian King, who gave very brief remarks. Thereupon, Paulson took a picture of the audience with his smartphone and tweeted it – to the delight of everyone.
Singers from each college chorus remained seated in the audience until it was their turn to take the stage, and first up were the 25 members of the Cosumnes River College Chamber Singers. My first impression of them was of how well they were dressed: tuxes for the men and black gowns with different colored scarves for the women. As it turned out, they were the best dressed of all the evening’s performers.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
The next thing I noticed about the CRC Chamber Singers was that they entered without scores: all their music was to be performed from memory. That made their first two pieces even more impressive: performed a cappella and in Latin. Kathryn Smith, Professor of Vocal/Choral Music at CRC, directed the first piece for about a minute, and then she walked away out of sight, demonstrating that the singers could stay together – and even end together – on their own. The group devliered a pure, well-blended sound that continued in the second selection. The third piece, Mendelssohn's "He, Watching Over Israel," was significantly more difficult, especially to perform from memory, and it was lovely. Then there was "Ye Followers of the Lamb," a rousing spiritual that drew an enthusiastic audience response.
The 27 members of the American River College Chamber Singers came next, entering the stage with what seemed to me to be noticeable confidence. They, too, weren't carrying music, and went on to perform a very challenging program from memory. Directed by Dr. Ralph Hughes, their set of music began with "Ave Maris Stella," an energetic and interesting piece, with many changes in mood. Early on I noticed the exceptional richness of the men’s singing, and as the piece progressed, I was impressed with the chorus's production of some very unusual, sophisticated choral sounds. The performance set a high bar for the rest of their program – and for the following groups, for that matter.
"A Quiet Place" was full of jazz harmonies, and I noticed their excellent articulation in this piece. "Cúnnla" was performed in Gaelic by the women only. Hughes didn't direct it and the women handled the difficult rhythms and pronunciation with confidence and an exuberant spirit. To my mind, they could have performed it in Dublin, and they would have earned cheers for their effort – and a pint, I imagine.
The wonderfully mellow "Loch Lomond" was performed by the men alone, with great attention to Scottish pronunciation. In fact it was more than pronunciation; they delivered the music with a Scottish flair. Throughout, I couldn't help chuckling at the extraordinary attention to detail in this performance, small touches that really communicated the spirit, energy and joy of the piece.
The last selection, “It Takes a Village” was presented in a distinctly African style and sound, with several African percussion instruments and the interesting effect of chorus members patting their chests with one hand. Most of the piece featured solos by Tyler Thompson and Justin Vaughn, who delivered their parts with confidence and expressiveness. I’ve watched a lot of Ralph Hughes directing, and he almost always seems serious and focused. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I saw him smiling throughout this piece, as he gave light directions while seated at the piano.
The Folsom Lake College Concert Choir, led by Prof. Larry Metcalf, assisted by student conductor, Mariia Pechenova, performed the longest set of the evening. Their music, all sung from scores and with piano accompaniment, was quite varied, but distinctly less challenging than that of the previous two groups. It appears that the choral music program at Folsom Lake College is in an earlier stage of development than those of the other schools, and apparently has fewer participating singers. It appears that the Concert Choir is their only chorus, while American River College has 2 choral groups, besides vocal jazz ensembles. Similarly, Cosumnes River College has a Concert Choir, College Chorus, Chamber Singers – and a Contemporary Gospel Choir. Tonight we heard the premier groups of both those colleges.
Sacramento City College fielded a large chorus (32 singers), directed by tonight’s host, Daniel Paulson. It was clear that Paulson, in his first year as conductor at SCC, is committed to innovation. After all, this first joint concert was his idea, and when did you see a concert started by tweeting a picture of the audience? But there were other evidences, such as the black chorus t-shirts that people were wearing or the very name of the chorus – new this year – #CollegeChoir. This nod to social media identifies the chorus as new and tuned in to the lifestyle of its members. I should add, though, that Paulson is a very experienced director: he has conducted numerous church choirs and is Founder and Music Director of the elite women’s choir, Vox Musica.
In introducing the Sacramento City College #CollegeChoir, Paulson commented on the educational aspects of his new chorus, which he said was focused on “building skills.” With that background, he introduced an innovative – almost experimental – program of all Native American music. The highlight of this part of the evening was a guest artist, two-time Grammy award-winner, Mary Youngbloo, with her Native American flute. She began the set with a solo that was haunting and evocative – and a delight to the audience. The next piece was a simple chant performed to piano and flute accompaniment. And the final, much longer, selection was parts of Jackson Berkey’s “Native American Ambiences.” It began with the recorded sound of moving water and proceeded to what is described in Berkey’s website as “contrasting and combined layers of a cappella mixed chorus, Native American flute, and prerecorded percussion and natural environmental sounds.” Those “natural environmental sounds” included birds, a single wolf, then a pack of wolves and finally (I think) an eagle. It was quite a cultural journey.
The finale of the concert brought all the singers to the risers – 101 by my count – for two very different pieces: “In These Delightful Pleasant Groves” by Henry Purcell and “Where Is Love” (the song from the musical, Oliver) in a contemporary arrangement by Joshua Shank. I think both pieces were more fun for the performers to sing than for the audience to hear, and indeed, from all the spontaneous expressions of enthusiasm, it was clear that the participants really enjoyed sharing this concert with one another. From the audience’s perspective, too, it was a most enjoyable evening, and with its success, perhaps a new tradition has been established.