The Sacramento Choral Calendar
River City Chorale
I'll Be Home for Christmas - December 13, 2015
by Laurie Colombo
On a cold day of frozen snow and ice in the hills of Georgetown CA, the River City Chorale found its way to the Georgetown IOOF hall. Built in 1859 this historical building hosts periodic musical events sponsored by Music on the Divide. As I had missed River City's concerts in Sacramento, this one I was determined to see!
Director Richard Morrissey pointed out to me that normally the group performs with an orchestra and a proper piano but when in the foothills, it is normal to make do! The pianist played beautifully as though not at all challenged by her keyboard! The group is composed of about 60 men and women from the Sacramento area. From its beginning in 1977 the group has performed internationally every 3 years.
The building was decorated simply for Christmas and the walls were lined with acoustic boards to help with the sound. And it worked! I felt the acoustics were very nice! The chorus looked very regal in colorful Christmas reds. It was a generous crowd who all bravely fought through the elements to attend.
(Click here to open the program for the Sacramento-area performances of this program.)
One of the musical selections was a challenging new piece by Kevin Memley, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Memley, from the Fresno area, is a versatile composer who has received worldwide attention. This song had a fresh new sound and was perhaps the first time heard in our area. And the group performed well using good dynamics. A trio of women sang a brief solo part and the Amen chorus built to a rousing crescendo.
John Rutter's “Christmas Lullaby” had a lovely flowing beat. The group sang clearly with excellent cut- offs at the end of phrases.
The men were featured in “Nowell” in four-part harmony and the women followed with “Merry Christmas” an arrangement by Maurice Gardner that incorporated six songs. Both ensembles demonstrated a good balance of strong voices.
“It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas” was an expressive piece arranged by Anita Kerr, American singer and composer. This piece was totally different for me, including a snippet of School Days. The chorus sprang to life using hand claps.
“Angels We Have Heard on High” arranged by Mack Wilberg featured the women's voices in the first verse and men in second and both together, building to an exciting finale.
Everyone enjoyed Mark Hayes’ jazz arrangement of “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The audience was swaying to the music.
After an intermission, the Chamber Choir moved onto the stage. With a nice light sound, they sang an Alfred Burt medley of 6 songs. I especially liked “Bright, Bright, the Holly Berries” with its lilting melody and “Nigh Bethlehem” with its good piano accompaniment. As many know, Alfred Burt wrote his carols as Christmas cards to his family, and the carols were only shared after his death!
The last section of the program with the full chorus began with Bach's “Crown Him King of Kings.” This piece was delivered with the nice, big sound that Bach had intended.
“Deck the Hall” by Peter Aston has a totally different melody than the traditional carol. The fa-la-la's were enchanting as background. ”Tis a Wonderful Thing,” arranged by Jay Rouse brought the crowd alive, tapping their feet to this lovely swing-style arrangement of a Christmas song. The last song, “The Many Moods of Christmas,” arranged by Robert Shaw, ended the program with a nice touch including a crowd sing-along to “Adestes Fideles.” I have to say I think everyone there was singing along!
Overall the performance showed great variety in music and excellent presentation skills. Morrissey seems to have an excellent rapport with his singers. I enjoyed the different arrangements of traditional carols, and the crowd was very enthusiastic about the performance. Georgetown was on its feet! And luckily the storm had let up as we left the historic building.