The Sacramento Choral Calendar
From Heaven on High - December 20, 2014
by Laurie Colombo
As the name suggests, this group can teach us all a lot about choral singing! As I entered the foyer, I was already excited to be there. Comments I heard on the way in were “the group sings like angels” and “they are as good as the Cambridge singers.” Needless to say, I was ready to be impressed.
And impressed I was. First by the lovely changes in the chapel. This is the first event to be held since its renovation. The center of the apse is the Christ figure surrounded by angels. The interior top dome is now painted a sky blue with the center panel a darker blue background of stars giving a feeling of looking at the universe. I arrived 15 minutes prior to the concert and the church was already full of eager enthusiasts. There were approximately 450 in attendance including esteemed guests, Bishop Jaime Soto and Bishop Emeritus William Weigand.
Lighting was dimmed and Schola Cantorum entered from both sides of the apse. Holding candles and complemented by the exquisite organ playing of Ryan Enright, they processed in to “Christe Redemptor Omnium” and slowly moved into place to the next piece, “Of the Father's Love Begotten.” It was indeed a thrilling opening and demonstrated the wonderful balance and dynamics of the group that I would be experiencing all night. The acoustics made every note ring. It is impressive that even though the singers hold their music all eyes are on conductor Donald Kendrick.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
The concert was dedicated to the memory of Stephen Paulus, who composed over 500 musical works. Included were 4 of his compositions. His nativity carols were punctuated by the brilliant oboe of Cindy Behmer and the touching harp of Beverly Wesner-Hoen. Included in this set were “The Holly and the Ivy” (a longtime favorite of mine), “This Endris Night,” accompanied by a light whimsical oboe, and “Wonder Tidings” that featured building crescendos which were great examples of Paulus' work. “Gabriel's Message” was an exciting, somewhat romantic piece with harp accompaniment. The women's entry sounded as if it was one pure voice. It gradually increased in momentum as other parts joined.
John Rutter's “Deck the Halls” was a fun journey through rhythmic backgrounds with a “round-like” feel. “Cuncti Simus” (or “Ave Maria Let Us Sing”) was one of my favorites. Written in the 1400s it had a great beat and used various percussive instruments. It was energetic with a distinctive Irish lilt to it. “Sir Christemas” had me looking forward to each 'Nowell' entrance repeating stronger and stronger. “Ding Dong Merrily on High” featured excellent dynamics with its 'piano' markings full of energy.
I enjoyed both of Matthew Colloton's arrangements of Christmas carols. “Away in a Manger” demonstrated a perfect balance of voices. The oboe refrain was haunting, and the women led softly with each part building on the next. ”Silent Night” began in unison with a break-out of parts as it continued. Use of dimmed lighting produced an ethereal quality.
The audience was asked to sing along with two carols, which let us all experience what it would be like to be under the direction of Donald Kendrick. His passion can be felt with each song. Dr. Kendrick founded Scola Cantorum in 1992. He is a man dedicated to the ministry of music. In addition to Schola, he also directs 3 choruses at Sacramento State, as well as the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra, of which he is founding director. He truly embodies enthusiasm and expertise in his vast scope of work. Most recently he was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the Capitol Section of the California Music Educators Association.
“Hodie,” the last number of the program, used various forms of percussion to make it a lively, celebratory piece. In addition to the organ, it included xylophone and chimes to conclude an outstanding performance by a very professional group of volunteer singers.
The program moved wonderfully from piece to piece, broken only by narrators reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas. Applause was held to the end of the program.
Scola Cantorum, a small elite group of master singers under Dr Kendrick's gifted direction, held our attention throughout the evening. The addition of the organ, oboe and harp made this an experience not to be missed. A Christmas gift for us all!
Laurie Colombo has lived in El Dorado County since 1985, a transplant from Atlanta. Currently she lives part time in both Garden Valley CA and Murphy NC. She has been in choruses since high school and sings with Cantare Chorale of the Sierra Foothills and the Mountain Community Chorus in Young Harris GA. She and her husband Rus have 2 dogs and 5 cats and travel with the animals in their RV.