The Sacramento Choral Calendar
A Day for Dancing - December 12, 2015
by Dick Frantzreb
The Davis Chorale’s holiday concert, “A Day for Dancing,” was held, as usual, in Davis High School’s Brunelle Hall. They had an abbreviated afternoon concert for families, and I attended the full evening performance. It seemed strange to see the chorus risers set up so far upstage, but one glace at the program, and I could see at least part of the reason — there were to be dancers.
The Chorale entered in silence, but when conductor Alison Skinner and accompanist Ellen Deffner entered, they were greeted with warm applause. With everyone in place, the performance began with “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.” Accompanied by piano, snare drum and tambourine, this was joyful music, and it seemed to me that the chorus was energized by the challenging rhythms of the piece. At its completion Skinner spoke to us, promising “lots of joyful and rhythmic music to come.” She spoke briefly about the next piece, Lloyd Pfautsch’s A Day for Dancing, a 9-part work that deals with the prophecy and birth of Jesus. She added that the Applegate Dance Studio would be presenting 4 original dances during the piece. At this point 11 girls from the Davis Children’s Chorale took up positions in front of the chorus, and additional instrumentalists — on flute, oboe and bassoon — prepared to play.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
The 9 sections of the piece all had different styles with different instrumentation. The music seemed appropriate for the holiday season and was occasionally familiar. The third “dance,” for example, featured the melody of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” but with a very different rhythm. And in the sixth dance, there were the familiar strains of the Bach chorale popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary as “Because All Men Are Brothers.” Overall, the music was lively, varied and interesting — telling the Christmas story in a fresh way — and well sung by the Chorale, the children, and the incidental soloists.
I have to say, though, that the singers were upstaged by the dancers. The first of the 9 sections of the piece featured the first dance, a solo by Sonja Brodt. I am so used to seeing teen or twenty-something dancers, that Ms. Brodt surprised me: a slender, gray-haired figure who moved gracefully in what I presume would be called an interpretive dance. I was struck with how limber she was, and I fear that watching how well she performed made me oblivious of the singing.
The remaining five dancers from the Applegate Dance Studio performed in three of the remaining sections of A Day for Dancing. Again, though they were of different ages, none was younger than 30, and their dances were almost as engaging as that first solo — appropriate for the music, graceful and interesting, with each dancer usually moving independently of the others, though occasionally there were patterns where they were in sync with one another. And much as I was impressed by the way the moved, I think I was impressed more by the beaming faces that really helped “sell” their performance.
Next on the program came the first of 3 audience singalongs, “Joy to the World,” which I think saw most of us participating. This was followed by the entrance of the rest of the Davis Children’s Chorale: 23 children in all (with just 4 boys and 2 of them very small), essentially divided into 2 choirs. During their 4-song set, it was fun just to watch the children and think about what a good experience this was for them — learning good music, experiencing its discipline, and feeling the joy (and maybe terror?) of performing for an audience. I noted that they were holding music folders, which meant that they hadn’t just learned the music by rote, but were presumably in various stages of learning to read music. And then there was the cuteness: itches and yawns and forgetting to turn pages and, for some, wrestling with a music folder that was really too big for them to manage. But they sang with great enthusiasm, and I couldn’t help focusing on the 6- or 7-year-old little red head in front, who made me think of Charlie Brown’s “Little Red-Haired Girl,” and who seemed to sing more energetically than the rest.
Much of the children’s singing was in unison, but there was some 2-part harmony and singing in rounds, and by the time they got to “Carol of the Bells,” they earned my respect as young musicians, doing a fine job on that difficult piece. I should also mention that they were accompanied by a fine young pianist whose name, unfortunately, wasn’t in the program.
For the final piece before intermission, the Children’s Chorale began the performance of “Nos Galan,” to be joined by the adult Chorale. It was an interesting piece, full of unusual rhythms (and, I believe, multiple time signatures) and with a fun Caribbean “Jingle Bells” section and another that was a nod to “Deck the Halls.” It was a lively and fun way to end the first half of the concert.
The first selection after intermission was Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” — a piece that has enthralled audiences for decades, especially since it was popularized by the men’s chorus, Chanticleer. In fact, it was originally written for a men’s chorus, but as the Davis Chorale performed this SATB version, we in the audience were still lulled by its timeless beauty. Few in the audience would have noticed, but it was a nice touch to have father and son, Richard and Jeremy Wright, performing the first two solos, with Jake Whittaker handling the third.
After a singalong of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” we were treated to “Christ Was Born on Christmas Day.” It was performed joyfully and with confidence by the chorus, with a clear articulation of the lyrics, and with solid solo performances by Patty Shade and John Burrow. The next two pieces (see the program for details) were performed a cappella and in Hebrew. The first especially had wonderful harmonies with excellent solos by Sharon Burow and Matthew Zavod, and the second had contagious rhythms (helped by a bongo drum). Both were performed with spirit — even passion — and must have been great fun to sing.
David Lantz’s “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” began with a soothing instrumental section, and a traditional presentation of the familiar carol by the chorus. Then the piece took off with different lyrics and music. Of all the new music I was introduced to in this concert, I think this was my favorite.
The audience got one more chance to sing (“Silent Night”) before the finale of the concert, “I Am So Glad.” Conductor Alison Skinner promised, “We’ll send you out with dancing feet,” and she was right. It was a gospel song that the chorus performed from memory and with a lively piano and bongo accompaniment. As they sang, it was obvious that everyone on the risers had gotten into the spirit of the song, and that was emphasized when they broke into clapping toward the end. Their clapping was joined by many in the audience, as the singers kept repeating the lyric, “I’m so happy.” And that was the mood of everyone as they withdrew to the reception in the lobby of the theater.