The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Woodland Chamber Singers
Adeste Fideles: A Holiday Choral Celebration - December 19, 2015
by Griffin Toffler
If one is looking for reasonably priced family Christmas entertainment, it is well worth the trip to Woodland to hear the yearly musical performance presented by the Woodland Chamber Singers. I went on a gusty and dark December night, but the inside of the church was bright and warm with a welcome blend of glitter, celebration and friendship. The standing-room-only crowd for the second of two concerts at the Woodland Presbyterian Church bears evidence of the craving for this type of program. Surprisingly, there were few children present, which is a shame, since there were a variety of musical numbers geared towards a child's enjoyment.
Led by the engaging Lenore Turner-Heinson, the group has over forty singers. The program had a feel of fun and fancy, though some of the more difficult pieces seemed a little tense. I wished they could embrace their identity as an "amateur" group and let go into the moment, throwing caution into the December winds. Whatever amateur musicians may lack in technical skills, they can easily make up for with their pure enjoyment of musical expression.
This is not to say this group was lacking in professionalism. Their music was performed well throughout the varied program, which featured some complex numbers. Flavors from around the world were represented, featuring a jostling Russian sleigh ride, a carol sung in Hawaiian accompanied by the ukulele, and a nod to South Africa in a resounding Gloria written by American composer William Bradley Roberts. There was a clever combination of "Jingle Bells" and the "Nutcracker Suite" named "Nutcracker Jingles" by its arranger, Chuck Bridwell. Contemporary composer Dan Forrest was represented by his piece "The Work of Christmas," which was beautifully rendered by the chorus. The first half of the show was polished off with the stirring "Chanukah Suite," by Jason Robert Brown.
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I wish that this able vocal group could have performed in a venue better equipped to optimize their vocal sound. As it was, the mix of voices seemed to not be properly showcased, because the acoustics were not ideal. The lack of reverb had some undesirable effects due to the acoustics of the room and not through any fault of the musicians.
During intermission, we were led in singing Christmas carols together by Woodland Chamber Singers member Stew Patrignani. Looking around as we sang, I was touched when I saw the many faces expressing the variety of meanings these songs carry.
The second half of the concert showed off the dramatic skills of chorus members with a medley from Babes in Toyland, followed by a condensed version of Nightmare Before Christmas. Spencer Alexander must have a background in musical theatre, because he did an amazing job as Jack Skellington, the Halloween specter and wannabe Santa Claus. Alexander's singing was clear, effective and understandable as he danced through the various incarnations of Jack with delightful enthusiasm. The show's finale was an inspiring performance of "God Bless Us Everyone" from Disney's A Christmas Carol delivered with great conviction by the choir.
In closing, I offer this quote by Chuck Bridwell, the arranger of "Nutcracker Jingles": "Itís not really how great a musician you are and it doesnít matter how outstanding your vocal, conducting or organizational skills are. Youíve got to love people and show it outwardly every time you are with a group or an individual." With that standard, the Woodland Chamber Singers is fulfilling their mission. You can seek out their future expression of love through song at their next concert in the spring. And if it is Christmas cheer you are looking for, head up to Woodland next December and bring the young ones with you. The children will thank you with twinkling eyes.