The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sierra College Choral Department
Spring Choral Concert - May 17, 2015
by Griffin Toffler
I looked over the program before the concert, noting that it was exclusively composed of popular tunes, of which I am not a big fan. However, my deep appreciation for an instructor who can inspire her young students to sing beautiful and complex harmonies proceeded to win me over. Thus the one-hour program presented by Sarah McQueen-Cunningham and her students and associates continued to sway me as they painted the air with a colorful pallet of harmonies and timbres.
Three choirs were featured: the Sierra College Concert Choir and the Sierra College Chamber Choir, both directed by Ms. McQueen-Cunningham and a surprise guest appearance by Reconciliation Singers Voices of Peace (RSVP), directed by Jennifer Reason. The entire concert was an acoustical performance, aided by the shell behind the singers, the microphone being used only for speaking to the audience before and after the pieces were performed.
The Sierra College choral groups performed tunes from the Beatles ("In My Life", "Blackbird" and "Ticket to Ride") and also included a piece by Sting ("Fields of Gold") and Billy Joel ("And So It Goes"). It was a pleasure to be artfully entertained by a choral group with clear diction. Not only could I understand just about every word, but the meaning showed through from beginning to end.
The director stood in front of the choir for two of the pieces, and the rest of the time, she walked off the set to watch from the sidelines, allowing the students to follow one another. It worked very well, an indication that they were thoroughly prepared. Most of the pieces were sung a cappella. David Saul Lee, a singer with RSVP, assisted the Sierra College choral groups with occasional piano accompaniment, which was artfully done, providing just the right amount of balance for the choir.
The RSVP section of the performance started off with the spiritual "Wayfarin' Stranger," in an arrangement that allowed the bass section to create an artfully rendered underlying structure of vocalizations. Two songs from the 1960s followed: a wonderful arrangement of "California Dreamin'" by RSVP member Jodi Serrano and "Under the Boardwalk" featuring the men of the group. What a fabulous treat! The men's tones were crisp and clean, running the gamut from booming bass sounds to effective falsettos. RSVP finished their set with a spirited medley of fiddle tunes and folk songs arranged by Ward Swingle. "Country Dances" provided an arena for the whole group to shine with an impeccable performance of speedy cascades of sounds typical of a Swingle Singers arrangement.
At the end, the three choirs joined together for two pieces. The grand finale was "Let the River Run" by Carley Simon from the movie Working Girl. The percussion and piano accompaniment contributed to a rousing end to a wonderful hour of beautiful and pure vocal sound.
I emphatically recommend you find a way to experience the delight of seeing either or both of the Sierra College Choirs perform. These young people were entrancing as each conveyed their unique expressions of the songs and, at the same time, were able to resonate so well as one unit. As I looked from face to face, each singer's expression was unique and convincing. While singing "In My Life", some looked dreamy, some satisfied, while others had a look of exuberance, yet it all fit together. It is refreshing to see a choral group allow for individuality while also presenting a unified sound, something that takes considerable talent to bring out in a group. When Ms. McQueen-Cunningham spoke at the end of the concert, it became clear how the dynamic I have described was achieved. She spoke of prodding her students with questions about who they are and how they can "sell the text" from their personal viewpoint.
I look forward to future concerts. It will be a delight to watch the choral department grow under the competent direction of Sarah McQueen-Cunningham.
Griffin Toffler attended Longy School of Music and Morehead University as a music major for 3 years. Although she went on to be successful in her field after obtaining an MA in Clinical Psychology at John F. Kennedy University, she has often thought of returning to college to complete her degree in music education. She is currently taking conducting classes at CSU Stanislaus. Her first voice teacher, Olga Averino, was a major influence in Griffin's life. Griffin hopes to, in some small way, pass on to others some of the wisdom she learned from Madame Averino. Her website is www.griffintoffler.com.