The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Christmas Gifts - December 13, 2015
by Diane Boul
When I arrived at Argonaut High School in Jackson on Sunday, December 13, 2015, to hear the Amador Choraliers, I actually thought I was quite early (2:25 for a 3:00 concert). However, when I stepped into the gym, it was already more than half full; from the buzz, it sounded like everyone knew everyone else. Obviously, people were anticipating a good show and wanted to get a good seat. Me, too!
The venue was decorated with a Christmas tree and wrapped gifts everywhere. The set included a choral shell, risers, spotlights, and a sound system with amps. I didn’t know what to expect. The program listed 23 singers doing 20 musical numbers (all memorized, no less, and this didn’t count the audience sing-a-long.
You know you’re doing something right if you can claim, like the Choraliers can, that you’ve been in the business of making music for 52 years. This kind of longevity is inspiring. So, what is their secret? Well, from what I gather, the directors and singers are truly interested in their community; they know how to have fun, and they have a following. On this particular Sunday afternoon, there were over 130 people in the audience. One woman from Elk Grove said she and her husband had been coming to hear this group for years. They just love them, and think they are so-o-o-o-o good. She couldn’t stop gushing!
Before describing some of the pieces on the program, I’d like to mention some of the consistencies I heard and saw in this group, which reflect the redundancies in my notes. For the most part the choir sang with appropriate expression, good dynamics, and often crisp diction. They captured the spirit of each song; they entertained. Despite the few men in the choir, there was a pretty good balance of voices. This is mostly an older choir, but most voices didn’t sound “old”; I didn’t hear any strong vibratos or any straining to reach high notes.
While the programming suited the talents of the choir, and undoubtedly pleased their audience, I think they are capable of challenging themselves with even more difficult repertoire, if they choose to do so. Their a cappella songs were some of my favorites. The recorded tracks seem to work for them in lieu of a dedicated piano/keyboard accompanist and live musicians. They used props and choralography very effectively, but sometimes I think this might have been overdone, losing the element of surprise. The Choraliers aren’t inhibited, which is great to see, although there were a couple of singers who were distracting. The chorus and soloists understand the concept of delivering a song to reach their audience.
The programming in the first half was quite well rounded with both smooth and up-tempo numbers; the comedic second half epitomized the concert theme, “Christmas Gifts.”
After a brief introduction by Master of Ceremonies, David Payne, the choir opened their program with the upbeat spiritual, “Can You Hear the Angels?” featuring soloist, Karen Reed, with Holly Wendland making her directorial debut. This was sung a cappella, on pitch, with good diction.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
I really enjoyed the presentation of “We Three Kings” and “No Room, No Room,” two jazzy arrangements, the latter a spiritual. There was good balance among the voices; the few men held their own.
“Glory Halleluiah” and “Mary Sat-a-Rockin’” were sung by the Women’s Chorus. The first piece had an energetic, rhythmic pattern, which further showed the versatility of this chorus. The second in this set was an a cappella number that I thought could have been even more rockin’. All voice parts were strong. Go Soprano II’s!
“Silent Night” was another nicely performed number with piano accompaniment and a very pretty solo presentation by soprano, Melanie Harris. This arrangement had a slight pop feel without destroying the beauty of Franz Gruber’s original composition. This segued nicely into “Holy is the Newborn Child,” which ended the first half of the program. This toe-tapping gospel arrangement spotlighted tenor, Michael Melligan, with a very nice solo.
After an intermission of cookies and drinks, the second half started with an audience sing-a-long, with Irv on the trumpet (a nice touch) and everyone singing the songs everyone knows. We were good!!
The Choraliers opened the second half with “A Little More Love for Christmas” and then, appropriately, we heard JR’s story. JR Keith and his partner, Mark, lost their home in the Butte fire, but are now safe and sound in their new home in Carmichael. During this tragedy, JR was reminded of his childhood and his family’s tradition of singing “Hard Candy Christmas.” He shared this nostalgic solo with us.
“Christmas Gift,” which had a nice legato ending, featured the men and Irv Gidding providing the jazz accompaniment. “Grandma’s Killer Fruit Cake” was a well-blended, twangy, country number with Joyce Burbank and Tom Reed. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” used stuffed hippos as props and choralography, just for fun!
The next three numbers had a ‘50s feel. “You are My Christmas Angel” gave us a mellow solo by tenor, Thomas Moraitis. “Merry, Merry Christmas Baby” was sung by the Women’s Chorus; the Men’s Chorus, sporting pasted-on Elvis sideburns, countered with, “Santa Bring My Baby Back.” Hilarious!
Another toe-tapping tickler was “The Twelve Groovy Days of Christmas,” with 70s-style lyrics and lots of action. The dynamics were appropriate throughout, and the fortissimos were especially strong.
“So ‘Baroque’ at Christmas,” based on Handel’s “Messiah,” told us the truth about credit cards and holiday debt: "Buying with plastic, oh, how drastic; credit becomes disaster faster.”
“Jingle Bells” was Amador Choraliers’ finale. It was an unusually difficult, well executed arrangement with overlapping musical themes.
Our M.C., Payne, thanked the audience and acknowledged all five directors, accompanists, and staff members, from lighting and sound people to props and costume personnel. In all about sixteen people, most of whom are also singers, produced this very satisfying show. Thank you, Amador Choraliers!