The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Free Range Singers
Many Waters Cannot Quench Love - January 19, 2015
by Laurie Colombo
What an exciting surprise awaited me in Davis when I attended the MLK Celebration “Many Waters Cannot Quench Love” at the Unitarian Universalist Church. A standing-room-only crowd of around 150 was in attendance. The redwood panels and rounded ceiling provided good acoustics. The event was a celebration of Martin Luther King through speech and song, and a second purpose was to raise funds for the Acme Theater Company.
Two groups were scheduled to sing – the UU Sparks Choir from the church and the Free Range Singers made up of community members. Both groups are conducted by Laura Sandage who led with extraordinary energy.
Special moments were provided by the Acme Theater Company, a high school student group that focuses on basic human rights. Interludes were performed by 5 members of the theater group (Eliza Buchanan, Ryan Johnson, Mikaela Manzano, Noah Papagni, and Katie Sanger) with quotes from MLK. Particularly moving was a tribute to “Hands Up” and “I Can’t Breathe,” as well as other pertinent daily issues. The dedication of these young actors was extremely riveting.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
“My Ship,” a traditional gospel, was a great introduction to the UU Sparks choir as they slowly moved on stage during the beginning of the song. The choir demonstrated great dynamics as they followed Ms. Sandage's cues. This gospel was a fitting reminder of the evening's focus. Paul Simon's “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” demonstrated a good balance of voices with a lovely crescendo toward the end.
The Free Range singers took the stage with “O Bruit Doux” (or the “Soft Sound of Rain”) which is based on a poem by Paul Verlaine. The song began with a procession of staccato notes repeated to imitate rain drops. A good part of the song was sung in very clear French. The “rain” continued as it moved from staccato to legato during the round singing parts.
The next presentation was “Rain” written by Holly Arntzen, a singer and songwriter as part of her Voices of Nature album – a compilation of echo songs. And what fun this was! It started with finger snapping and mouth pops then knee patting as the rain built into a storm. Then it subsided and dissipated as the singing began. Ray Frank on guitar, Johnny Flores on drums and Nancy Lower on piano all provided excellent accompaniment. As the song ended, the group solemnly turned its back to the audience as the sound of Native American rain sticks concluded the piece. Rain sticks contain small pebbles that imitate rain drops as they flow through the body of the instrument.
The director made great use of placement of the singers as the two choruses combined and spread throughout the room holding rain sticks and African feathers to begin the “Rainforest Chant” dedicated to Melie-e, the spirit of the forest. This song was written by Scottish singer/songwriter, John Bowker, known for his tribal spirit drum. The drum beat was provided by the singers in the center of the room with answering melodies around the room. It was a trip through a tropical forest.
“Down to the River to Pray” was arranged by pianist Nancy Lower and again used effective movement of the singers. As the chorus repeated “Let’s Go Down to the River,” members of the group begin to slowly converge at the center of the room. Seeing them come together in this way was both exciting and inspirational.
“Many Waters” by Daniel Pinkham was written in 1956 as part of his Wedding Cantata. This lovely piece, based on a passage from the Song of Solomon, included the sounds of cello (Eldridge Moores), flute (Linda Birse) and violin (Erin Donley Marineau).
“Many Waters” by Pastor John Mark Harrison was a lively, fun song with the men holding the beat with “By the River”' lyrics and women singing “Many, Many Waters” and adding each part to the build- up of the refrain: “I'm Not Afraid.” It generated a lot of excitement as the singers once again mingled with the audience.
The community sing-along that closed the program was a great success. The words were projected on a screen before us, and there was a lot of audience participation as we sang these inspirational songs: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” “We've Got the Power,” and “Somos el Barco,” ending with “There Is More Love Somewhere.” The entire room was on its feet as we swayed to the rhythms of these songs. It was a powerful end to the evening, with a powerful message left for us all to ponder. Thanks to the Acme Theater Group and the UU Sparks Choir and Free Range Singers, I know I certainly felt part of the spirit of the holiday. It was a very warm energetic performance by enthusiastic performers. And a great tribute to Martin Luther King.