The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Reconciliation Singers Voices of Peace (RSVP)
Our Song - June 6, 2015
by Diane Boul
Just when you think you’ve “heard” and “know” RSVP (Reconciliation Singers Voices of Peace), they surprise you with even more talent and excellence in performance than previously experienced. This is a very caring and sharing group of people, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that they were willing to create a program that exposed them musically.
As patrons who attend RSVP concerts know, and as Keir MacMillan explained in his introduction, RSVP’s main focus is to provide concrete financial contributions to local charities. This means giving proceeds from their concerts, donating their time as skilled musicians, and collaborating with other choirs, authors and musicians to create concerts that are diverse and imaginative. To that end, RSVP chose Alpha K9, whose mission is to provide highly skilled and effective Service Dogs and Working Dogs to veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—some of the 10.6 million of them.
RSVP’s concert, titled “Our Song” and presented in the comfort of Journey Church in Folsom, was comprised of music rooted in Americana. Chosen by the individual artists, the songs made appropriate references to both hardships and patriotism. The program began with tenor Tim Stephenson warmly singing “MLK”, by U2, arranged by Bob Chilcott, a lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. With the audience being asked to hold their applause, the choir segued into “Wayfarin’ Stranger,” an American folk/spiritual, arranged by contemporary composer, Craig Zamer. Soloists Joshua Ray, Sheri Peifer, and Lin Kassouni-Walker were strong and resolute in their interpretation of a wayfaring stranger singing of the hardships of his life passing by and speaking of his journey to a better place. The choir backed them up reassuringly with appropriate expression and great dynamics.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
“California Dreamin’,” written by John and Michelle Phillips, was given a laid-back, dreamy treatment by Noreen Barnett, whose voice was perfect for this mellow, swing-style arrangement by RSVP singer/arranger, Jodi Serrano. “All the Things You Are,” written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was arranged by the late Ward Swingle of the Swingle Singers. It was jazzy and scatty with great swing rhythm; this style suits many RSVP singers.
I’d never heard the spiritual, “Stand in That River”, so I had to do some research. This song was written in 2003 by Moira Smiley. Sung in a lilting, blue-grass style, it showcased soloists Monica Crumley and Jodi Serrano and was greatly enhanced by Tim Stanley on the banjo, and Eric Rosander on bass. Ms. Smiley called this piece “a new spiritual to join the American tradition….” That may well become true, but the tune has been around for close to two hundred years. Francis D. Henry wrote the lyrics to “Acres of Clams” (“Old Settler’s Song”) around 1874. His lyrics were sung to the 1838 tune “Old Rosin the Beau” (or “Rosin the Bow”), an early folk song of unknown origin. Good tunes never die. Sometimes they’re given new life by composers, like Smiley, who hear more than the basic melody. Add this to spirituals you hopefully will hear again! “Java Jive,” written by Ben Oakland and Milton Drake, arranged by Kirby Shaw, was delivered in traditional 1940s jazz style. I liked the slightly off-beat rhythm and phrasing, but I didn’t think this quartet was as harmoniously tight as they could have been. Continuing in this genre, Tim Stephenson gave us Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, a vocal solo while accompanying himself on the drums. This was unusual and seemed difficult, but Tim pulled it off beautifully.
Jennifer Reason ended the first set with the composition, “Gone,” co-written by herself and her brother, Phillip Reason. Her brother had been a Special Operations soldier and this song was a tribute to those returning from war, including her brother-in-law who returned with PTSD. Ms. Reason is an extremely talented musician who co-wrote this song, presented it as a vocal solo, and accompanied herself on the piano. She was joined by Colin Matthewson on trumpet, Tim Stanley on cello and Tim Stephenson on drums. Very touchingly, “Gone” ended with the trumpet solo, “Taps.”
[Lexi Williams, an Alpha K9 representative, gave a short speech about her organization.]
“Cruel War”, written by Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stooky of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, was given a heartfelt rendition by Noreen Barnett and Sarah Haynes. Their voices were complementary and blended nicely. I really enjoyed this duet.
Soloist Karen Percy performed a really “hot” “Fly Me to the Moon.” The program named Frank Sinatra as the composer, but this piece was written by Bart Howard; Sinatra’s version was arranged by Quincy Jones. Karen’s interpretation was strong, with interesting scats and great swing style. I wouldn’t say it was in Sinatra’s style, but in Percy’s own style. Excellent!
Contemporary singer/songwriter India.Arie’s song, “Ready for Love” was delivered soulfully by David Saul Lee. Also written and delivered from the soul was “Sweet Rivers,” which speaks of pain at the end of life. Rather than sounding funereal, it was given the movement of a river by the men’s chorus, led by soloist David Vanderbout. The lyrics, from a 19th century hymnal, are the writings of John A. Granade with music by William Moore, and arrangement by Reginald Unterseher for his dying father. This was an accompanied piece which overpowered the singers much of the time. (Maybe it was because of where I was sitting.) Singers Karen Percy, Jodi Serrano, and David Saul Lee continued in this contemplative vein with Seal’s pop song “Kiss from a Rose” arranged by Sarah-Jan Hasman.
Probably the most fun piece of the evening was “Country Dances,” a fast-moving potpourri of 16 traditional country tunes. With “Arkansas Traveler” the recurring theme, this ditty is vocally accompanied by sounds that evoke various country-music instruments: fiddles, banjos, jugs, etc. Arranged by the late Ward Swingle, I think RSVP did a wonderful job with the “million” words, memorized and sung a cappella. This piece would not have been so enjoyable had it not been for the choir’s great diction, perfect tuning, steady rhythm and lively tempo. Quite a feat.
Ending the wonderful evening was “Lead Kindly Light,” written by Cardinal John Henry Newman and Bishop Edward Henry Bickersteth, arranged by Dan Forrest. This beautiful, tear-producing piece was accompanied on the piano by Jennifer Reason and Tim Stanley on the cello. I wish I had been able to hear/understand the words. In any case, this is a gorgeous piece of music and a fitting end to an evening of hope for those suffering from PTSD. RSVP’s blend and dynamics were gentle and so expressive. A great gift to the audience.
This choir has no weak links. They perform professionally no matter what genre of music, which shows how well educated and talented all of these musicians are. Their technique, whether a cappella or accompanied, is stellar and their ease of singing is relaxing. They sing with tight harmonies, contrasting dynamics and their diction is great, for the most part. Lastly, they sing with heartfelt expression. RSVP is a complete package, worth hearing again and again.
Overheard in the audience: “…but, I still prefer to hear RSVP as a choir.” This listener concurs. Their beautiful tight harmonies are their biggest draw, in my opinion.