The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Woodland Chamber Singers
A Sacred Spring - May 30, 2015
by Diane Boul
Sometimes a choral program is so well thought out that it becomes a concert comprised of very special compositions that beg to be heard again and again. That was the case with the Woodland Chamber Singers’ concert, entitled “A Sacred Spring,” directed and conducted by Artistic Director, Lenore Turner-Heinson, who has over 40 years experience in the performing arts including a deep dedication to choral music education. This was a serious concert, with music that was sacred in a religious sense—the opening chant from the “Sound of Music” and other traditional Latin texts—and also sacred in a secular sense—“There is Sweet Music Here” and “Dance into the Day.” But, this serious concert also had humor—“I Sing, You Sing”--and spirit—“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”
The concert I heard on Saturday night, May 30, 2015, was held in the large, comfortable Performing Arts Theater at Pioneer High School in Woodland. The same concert was presented on Sunday afternoon, May 31, 2015. On June 27, 2015, they will present a concert, composed of songs from “A Sacred Spring” along with some new music, at the Woodland Opera House.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
As an introduction, one of the choristers presented the conductor and the accompanist; and then, as in the Sound of Music, the choir bell chimed as the Women’s Chorus processed to their places. “Mono Chant from Preludium” was done in typical antiphony style with an unnoted duo performing the “call,” and the choir, the “response.” It was sung delicately and simply. They transitioned into “Morning Hymn” while the bell chimed before the “Alleluia” which followed. Continuing in the a cappella style and traditional Latin, the Women’s Chorus sang “Beati Omnes” based on Psalm 128, and “Confitemini Domino.” These were sweetly sung, with a nice blend and balanced harmonies.
“There is Sweet Music Here” by Robert Sieving and “Barter” by René Clausen are two beautiful compositions and a departure from the religious sacredness. These pieces were accompanied by the very capable pianist, Lori Jarvey, who introduced the mood and tone. Set to words by two extraordinary poets, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Sara Teasdale, respectively, the women did an admirable job considering the vocal range of these songs. Some of the high notes seemed out of range for a few, who might have been reaching for the notes instead of getting on top of them. Good diction was lacking, and since there were no concert notes in the program, I’m afraid the words of this beautiful poetry were lost. I would also have liked to have seen more facial expression.
“Dance into the Day” showcased high school student, Veronica Blanco, on the xylophone. This was a very spritely number and a nice contrast to the music that came before. Veronica appeared very comfortable with her instrument, and I hope we hear more of her in the future. Contrasting dynamics were not evident in the choir and, again, diction was an issue.
The Sextet of four men and two women, all part of the Mixed Ensemble, sang a nicely blended, “I Sing, You Sing.” It’s a fun, comedic piece about the song you just can’t get out of your head (described in the song as “this parasite” that provokes the victim to “…get me a knife or a gun” to dispel the misery). The group sang cohesively, with good energy, and good diction.
At this point in the concert, Ms Turner-Heinson gave an explanation of the different choirs and the opportunities singers have. The Women’s Chorus (about 20 strong) was probably formed because of the overwhelming number of women who wanted to sing—inspirational since Woodland is a small community. The Mixed Ensemble is a group of men and women (about 30), well-balanced to sing eight-part harmonies as written. This director understands that some choir members need more challenges, so she also included a small ensemble—a sextet on this occasion--and one of the pieces focused on a soloist. Quite an undertaking!
The Mixed Ensemble performed next. These singers are all unique to this group; and, after listening to their set of five songs, I had to conclude that they were quite experienced singers. They sang as one body, with good tone and blend, with a good balanced sound (due in part because the voices parts were mixed), and good diction for the most part. Their vowels were well matched which made a big difference in the unification of their sound.
In “Festival Gloria,” by Craig Courtney, the harmonic layering of voices was beautifully done and nicely accompanied by Ms. Jarvey. The a cappella motet “O Nata Lux,” by Morten Lauridsen had excellent dynamic contrasts and the fades to pianissimo were so impressive. The impeccably consistent rhythm in “Alleluia” by Mark Hayes made that song shine. “Even When He is Silent” was one of my favorites. Norwegian composer, Kim André Arnesen, composed this song based on a text that was found in a concentration camp after World War II. (“I believe in God even when He is silent.”) The choir exhibited such sensitivity in their phrasing with controlled breathing and breathtaking pianississimos. The beautiful harmonies and dissonance in this piece were perfect for this choir which really did it justice.
“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” featured tenor, Michael Frasier (not mentioned in the program). His voice was strong, easily heard, and appropriate for this spiritual. I thought he could have been more animated and would have liked to have seen/heard more passion, more in the spirit of the song. The choir provided just the right dynamics to complement Michael.
The evening concluded with the Full Chorus performing “How Can I Keep from Singing” from poetry by Robert Wadsworth Longfellow and music by Janet Whitcomb Pummill. “America the Beautiful” was sung as a tribute to our fallen warriors following the recent Memorial Day holiday. “Joy Be with You All” was an appropriate closing number and has recently become Woodland Chamber Singers’ signature piece. This is a Scottish folk song, arranged by Douglas E. Wagner. The Full Chorus encircled the audience while performing it. The song was memorized, very pretty, with a lush lilt--a well-performed number for a memorable ending.
In summary: I loved that this choral concert was mostly a cappella with diverse composers, arrangers, and lyricists. I loved the dynamics, especially in songs by the Mixed Ensemble. I loved that the voice parts were mixed, making for a good balanced sound. Even though it was a “serious” concert, it wasn’t without humor or contrasts. It looked as if both choirs could have sung without holding their music. Maybe next time.
Overheard in the audience: In response to a compliment about the concert, one choir member remarked: “Oh, thanks, we love Lenore; she could teach a rock to sing.” Well, these are not “rocks,” but they can sing and I’m looking forward to hearing them in the future.