The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Happy Birthday, Mr. Marconi! - April 25, 2015
by Dick Frantzreb
The Sacramento Capitolaires drew a large crowd to Carmichael's Christ Community Church this afternoon — no surprise because they always put on a good show with a lot of variety. A little before the announced start time of 2:00 p.m. and dressed in dark suits with lemon-yellow ties and handkerchiefs, the Capitolaires filed in to a warm welcome from the audience. They began their set of music with "On a Wonderful Day Like Today." I was immediately aware of their exuberant spirit, good blend and humor — all pointing to director Ray Rhymer when they got to the line, "The pleasure's mine and he will pay the bill." They followed with another rousing song, "It's Gonna Be a Great Day."
(The concert program doesn't list individual music selections, but it does have background information on all the performing groups. Click here to open it in a new window.)
One highlight of the show was emcee, Larry Womac. With a professional-quality bass voice, it was a pleasure to hear him make each announcement. He began by explaining the title of the show: April 25 is the birthday of Guglielmo Marconi, considered to be the inventor of radio. In fact, we were invited to sing "Happy Birthday" to Mr. Marconi, and many in the audience joined in the gag. From then on, the idea was to tie the Capitolaires songs to other April 25 anniversaries (some pretty far-fetched).
I don't recall the April 25 connections for subsequent songs, but the next tune, "Sentimental Journey" (led by co-director, Dan Warschauer) was a gentle toe-tapper that took most of us in the audience on our own sentimental journey. A fun rendition of "Sittin' on Top of the World" followed, with a generous sprinkling of humorous bits.
Then came "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." I've heard the refrain of this song all my life. (Confession: I've been a Cubs fan since childhood, and I can still hear Harry Caray singing it.) But I'd never heard the verse with which the Capitolaires began. That's one of the fun things about barbershop songs. They almost always begin with the verse — usually unfamiliar — so the listener is wondering whether the song might be one he's never heard before. Then there's a special pleasure when the verse leads to the familiar refrain.
Next on the afternoon's program was the Sacramento-based women's quartet, Moment-OH. I didn't recognize the first of the six songs they sang, so I can't give the title. But I recognized "When I Fall in Love," "Anything Goes," "I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do," "If You Love Me, Really Love Me," and "I've Got Those Flirty Eyes." In many of these songs there were cute gestures (like the time they pulled out their smartphones to tweet) or clever lines ("They're thinking about Xbox, not love"). Their singing was always very expressive, with sophisticated harmonies. Sometimes, however, the harmonies were too sophisticated for me, when I wasn't able to pick out the melody of a familiar song. But the set was certainly entertaining for me and the rest of the barbershop-friendly audience.
The Christ Community Church's Jubilation Handbell Choir was next on the program. I think a non-choral performance like this adds welcome spice to a choral concert, and indeed this group provided some delightful listening. And not just listening. It's fun to watch them hurry to get the next handbell, or use different instruments or use the handbells in a creative way. And in their first number, John Philip Sousa's "Washington Post March," I had to laugh as Capitolaire Mike Selby (also a member of the Handbell Choir), struggled to manage 8 big handbells. In the next piece, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," the audience was invited to hum along, and it felt like most of us did. The finale was "The Prayer," familiar to most of us as a duet between Celine Dione and Andrea Bocelli or between Celine Dione and Josh Groban. This piece featured a continuo sound from a synthesizer and interesting "bell" effects that I've never heard before. It was lovely and left me, for one, wanting more.
Next on the program was the Antelope High School Advanced Chamber Choir, one of seven choral ensembles at that school. As they mounted the risers, I was impressed first with their concert dress, the girls in long black dresses with red waistbands and pearl choker necklaces and the boys in tuxedos with red vests. Their first selection was "Te Quiero," a long piece performed a cappella and in Spanish. Listening to the 24 girls and 8 boys, I heard young voices, but a controlled sound that made for easy listening. Next, with piano accompaniment, they sang "Heart and Soul," the piece that half the world can begin to play on the piano. As they sang, the kids loosened up and the personality they displayed made me smile. Then came an a cappella rendition of "L.O.V.E." ("'L' is for the way you look at me.") Then came "Ho Hey" a song by The Lumineers, again performed by the students a cappella except with ukulele accompaniment. I have to say the whole thing was cute enough to bring tears to a grandfather's eyes.
The traditional Scottish ballad, "Loch Lomond" was next on the program. As in some of the previous pieces, this song featured some excellent solo voices, and at one point I was struck by the incredibly mellow sound produced by the alto section. It was a rousing arrangement, and I can still hear the repetitive percussive pattern of the tenors and basses ("Dai dee dai dai"). And it was all made especially effective by the singers' good articulation of the Scottish dialect. The Antelope High School Advanced Chamber Choir closed with another high energy piece, "Goin' Up to Glory," leaving to especially warm applause from the audience.
These young people were a hard act to follow, but the men's quartet, TopCats, just carried everything to a higher level. They took the stage with great energy and began with "Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia." Their blend was delicious, and they kept the audience delighted with their humor throughout the set. I noted a couple of songs, "It's Only a Paper Moon," and "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die." But I missed the title of the beautiful piece from Toy Story 2, and I'm sure there was another song or two that I missed — I was just very focused on watching them perform. Interestingly, so were the kids. I think that TopCats sold a lot of these young people on barbershop this afternoon. One cute moment was when the TopCats took a selfie of themselves with half of the Antelope High School Advanced Chamber Choir in the background. The other half of the Choir was sitting on the other side of the church, and they clamored for a selfie with them in the background. And of course, the TopCats obliged. After the concert I noticed the TopCats interacting with a couple dozen of the students, boys and girls, teaching them "tags." I'm sure it melted the heart of any old barbershopper who noticed.
The show closed with the return of the Sacramento Capitolaires. They gave an animated performance of "When It's Darkness on the Delta," complete with swaying and hand gestures. Then they performed their latest contest songs, "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" (a complicated arrangement, expressively sung) and "Cabaret" (in which they really loosened up and had fun, which was shared by the audience). Indeed, that's what the Sacramento Capitolaires are all about, having fun with singing. And to emphasize the point, they brought all the afternoon's performers back on the stage to join in "Keep the Whole World Singing." If there's an anthem for the Barbershop Harmony Society, this is it, and this afternoon, it felt as though if there's anything that the whole world needs, that would bring people together, it would be singing.