The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Tropical Fever: Music to Cruise By! - May 15, 2015
by Dick Frantzreb
When the chorus entered in dark outfits with leis, it was clear that they were serious about the theme of this concert — Tropical Fever: Music to Cruise By! — and a glance at the program confirmed that fact. This is a large chorus with 73 singers in the roster. The Orangevale Community Center was certainly large enough to accommodate them, but the risers were not, and people spilled out over both ends, taking positions on the floor. Maybe that was a good thing because, crowded together as they were, it was easy to hear each other and blend their voices. There was no sound amplification, but it seemed to me that the acoustics of the room were very favorable. At one point, Director Jim Parr, Jr. acknowledged that they were having a little trouble adjusting to the risers and lighting. He pointed out that they’re always performing someplace different, so each concert requires a degree of adjustment. Indeed, this was their first performance at the Orangevale Community Center, and although most of their public performances are at Arden Christian Church, they perform at numerous venues during the typical season.
(Click here to open the program in a new window. Note the order of the last two songs was reversed in the performance.)
Most of the songs performed tonight had piano accompaniment. Some had percussion; and “Over the Rainbow” had 4 ukuleles. All instruments were played by singers doing double-duty except, of course, the group’s fine pianist, Jason Sia. Everyone sang from a score, but it was apparent that many had the music memorized. Another thing that I noticed was the good blend produced by this group. There didn’t seem to be oversinging coming from any section, and that implied that they were listening to each other and tuning.
As the chorus was performing the first number, I noticed 6 or 8 young children, maybe 4 to 8 years of age, listening with rapt attention. That didn’t last, of course, but the audience clearly enjoyed the program. It’s fair to say that all this music was probably familiar to everyone present, certainly it was to those over a certain age. I should add that it was clear as I listened that these people were having fun singing this music, and they showed it. And when a chorus has fun, it’s a good bet the audience will, too.
Enjoyable as this repertoire was for both singers and audience, “Barbara Ann” was something different. The chorus started swaying and the smiles really broke out all over the risers — and in the audience, too, I'll bet. With the great beat in this song, everything before seemed tame by comparison. After “Barbara Ann,” it seemed to me that the arrangements got more difficult — and perhaps a bit more interesting. I’m thinking particularly about “So Nice (Summer Samba).” It’s a piece that I didn’t recognize from the title, but which was familiar as soon as they got into the refrain. And, indeed, it did seem pretty challenging to sing — and satisfying to listen to.
Speaking of challenging, the next piece, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” was in 8 parts. And it was my favorite part of the concert. The chorus brought out their broad smiles again for this piece, and swayed to its gentle beat. But the highlight was soloist Lee Leavelle, who gave his part an easy grace, ad libbing some of the lines, relaxed and really selling the song.
The finale was quite a production. With 4 chorus members playing ukuleles, it was “Over the Rainbow” in the style of ukulele artist Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (or Brother Iz). It was the first time I’d heard this well-loved song in this style, and I must say it was delightful. As it concluded, the audience expressed its appreciation and most of us thought the show was over, but then came the announcement, “This choir has a tradition of sing-along.” With that, members passed out words-only song books, and with the audience calling out numbers of the songs, we sang 17 old favorites. I think it’s fair to say that a good time was had by all. Certainly that was true for this singer.