The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Children's Chorus
Joy Is Everywhere - December 5, 2015
by Diane Boul
At about 7:00 p.m. on December 5, 2015, I had a bit of trouble parking near Westminster Presbyterian Church, venue for the 7:30 p.m. performance by the Sacramento Children’s Chorus. Good sign!! After hearing the concert and seeing how many children belong to SCC, I realized that most of the audience members were probably parents and grandparents. But this was not your typical children’s musical recital. This was a professional-level event with some very dedicated and disciplined children. Who out there doesn’t just love the sound of children’s voices—singing, I mean? These choristers deserve a standing-room-only audience.
I’m still in awe of the logistics involved in producing this concert with about 120 children and teenage singers, 4 accompanists, and 2 conductors, not to mention 7 instrumentalists. Everyone appeared to be in the right place at the right time!! It helped to have the accompanists playing interludes of carols while students moved very quickly and efficiently into place. Just another layer to the entertaining evening. Kudos to everyone!!
First, a brief explanation of the four choir levels that participated in this concert.
In addition there are Levels 1 (Music Makers) and 2 (Cantate), which are younger, less mature students, who didn’t sing this night. The overlap in grade levels is due to different musical maturity levels.
Although I was familiar with most of the repertoire on the program, there were a few unfamiliar hymns or carols from other countries, mostly sung in the native languages. Almost universally the choirs were animated and relaxed. Many of the songs were sung a cappella and all were memorized, which freed the singers to express the emotions of the songs and have fun. Even the little ones sang in parts, if not harmony, then in canons.
The technique shown by SCC singers was impressive. Their superb diction allowed the stories to be told. The appropriate expression exhibited by these youngsters and their sensitivity gave me goose bumps. Most outstanding were the entrances and exits of songs. With one obvious exception, the cut-offs were crisp and totally in unison. Even with the animation and expression, the singers maintained contact with their conductor and were never out of control.
Each chorus sang songs appropriate to their musical maturity. I never felt the singers were stretching to interpret or perform beyond their ability and yet, their ability is far beyond what one would expect. To further show their diversity, the choirs all performed songs that were written, or based on lyrics, from the 16th century to the present, often in the original language.
The concert opened with “While by My Sheep” sung by Cantoris and the Cappella Girls. The dynamically echoing “Joy, joy, joy” worked well with the contrasting ages of the choir members.
(See attached program. The following comments are by choir, in age-descending order, starting with the teen/college choir, Cappella.)
Cappella. There are only a few male singers in this group, but they strongly processed in, warmly leading the choir in “Wintertime Cheer,” exhibiting excellent diction and spirited singing. “What Sweeter Music” followed with a gentle-voiced soloist, Prerna Ambrish, who was a bit hard to hear. I think the microphone might have been off; she was joined by lilting voices of the choir.
“Jul Jul” is an old Swedish carol that was sung in Swedish. Even in the foreign language, I could understand words. The lyrics, sung very soothingly by Cappella, start “Peace, peace, wonderful peace.” Following this tear-producing number was “Bidi Bom,” a celebration of Hanukkah. This piece could have sounded very mushy, but the articulation of the consonants and the animation of the singers, along with the rhythmic accompaniment, brought wide smiles to all. The accelerando was intense, and yet they never sacrificed control or mumbled the words.
Cappella’s second set brought us rhythmically difficult arrangements of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Christmas Waltz.” These jazz versions with a jazz combo were so well done, but the choir seemed a bit overpowered by the instrumentalists.
Cantoris. This was a lovely set by Cantoris, the advanced touring choir. Singing from the balcony, their “Alleluia,” written by Donald Kendrick, had one word but many textures. I loved the dissonances, and this piece really highlighted the vocal range of the singers. Despite the imperfect cut-off at the end, this was a difficult piece really well done.
While Cantoris was leaving the balcony to take their places for the next few songs, Helen Mendenhall played her arrangement of “The First Noel.” I was unique and full of “instrumentation,” as if she were playing multiple instruments. I was glad to be able to hear this exceptional pianist before her imminent retirement. This concert was dedicated to her.
The “Kalanta of the New Year” is a boisterous blessing that children sing to their Greek elders on New Year’s Day, and boisterous fun it was! This arrangement had the choir singing alternating Greek and English verses. A very nice solo was performed by Jenna Hansen with Andy Alexis on the dulcimer.
The next two pieces were presented as a prelude to the choir’s upcoming tour to the Baltic States. “Ziemas Svetki Sabraukusi” showed the diversity and strength of this choir. Not only was it sung in the Latvian language, but the song highlights the cultural variation in music with modal harmonies and chromatic movement of the melodies. “A Gentle Snow is on the Ground,” was sung in English. Director Stevens took this opportunity to tell the audience about their upcoming trip and to praise the choir for their diligent work on the difficult Latvian songs.
“Go Where I Send Thee!” closed the first half of the program. The wonderful clamorous nature of the piece didn’t send the choir out of control. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, and so were we! I think this was the best presentation of this song that I’ve heard.
Later, Cantoris returned with Mel Torme’s standard, “The Christmas Song.” The choir made a simple, well-know song very special, with appropriately placed emphasis and emotion. One of my favorite solos was sung by Larkin Barnard-Bahn in “Mary’s Little Boy Child” which followed.
Cantus. Written in the 17th century by Henry Purcell, “Good People, Be Ye Glad” was sung harmoniously and with good dynamics. Those 20+ voices had to be very strong to be heard over the trumpet. I love the two 16th-century Spanish carols they sang next. First was an especially nice arrangement of “Riu Riu Chiu” by Audrey Snyder, followed by her arrangement of the Spanish lullaby, “A la Puerta del Cielo,” also sung in Spanish. Well done!!
For their second set Cantus sang a very pleasing medley arrangement of “Over the River” and “We’ll Dress the House.” Once again, their diction was outstanding. ”Dashing Through the Snow” was a difficult arrangement by John Leavitt. Cantus performed this extremely well, weaving “Dashing” with “Jingle Bells,” with everyone holding his own.
Cantabile. The selection of music sung by these young children showed such discipline! First they sang “Welcome Gay Kolytada” in Russian and in English as a canon. Then “New Year Carol” was sung partly in Japanese, accompanied by Cantoris students playing instruments, a nice collaboration of efforts between the two groups. “Joy to the World” showed the strength of their small voices with good dynamics and excellent technique. Their cut-offs were perfect.
Immediately following the intermission, we were treated to a darling rendition of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a jazzy arrangement with choreography. Yes! They sang and moved, in rhythm, with no obvious mistakes. Such focus!
Singing “Santa Around the World” with Cantabile student narrators, we learned what Santa is called in other countries. And appropriately, Santa made an appearance to the delight of all!
All Choirs. “Carols from the British Isles” was a medley that closed the program, starting with “Suo Gan,” a solo by Erica Leiserowitz, which was sung in Welsh. This was another of my favorite solos. The Cappella men sounded very solid and mellow in “The Wexford Carol.”
If it isn’t already obvious, I’ll say that I loved this concert. It was wonderful to see and hear the different levels of achievement and maturity exhibited by each group of singers. Wonderful!