The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sierra Master Chorale
The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace - May 17, 2016
by Nancy Bramlett
The packed house at Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grass Valley was treated to a marvelous concert from the Sierra Master Chorale this Tuesday evening as the last light of the evening shown through the center window. This is not surprising, as this group regularly has people lining up over an hour before the concert in order to procure the best seats. Why such enthusiasm? It might be the fabulous orchestra. It might be the high-caliber, auditioned-only choir. It might be the spirit of the director. It might be the incredible community in Grass Valley. I’m sure the reason is somewhat different for all of us, but the point is, if you are thinking of coming to their next concert, just do it. But get there early if you want a seat! I plan on beating you there.
(You can peek at the program here. Check out the lyrics; they are fabulous.)
As usual, the choice of music makes a huge impact. I had experienced The Armed Man once before and became an immediate fan. The opportunity to hear it again from one of my favorite choirs, had me on pins and needles. It's not that I am a fan of war. It’s that I am a fan of music that portrays every nuance of the lyrics and theme with so many devices: dynamics, notes, enunciation, tone, counterpoint, harmony, repetition, language, juxtaposing tone colors with instruments and voices. With so many elements working together, you can feel the highs and lows and everything in between with great intensity.
We were asked to not applaud until the end of the piece. I can tell you there were several times I almost had to tie my hands down to not applaud!
The first section, also titled "The Armed Man," began perfectly in French with more and more choristers marching — louder and louder and louder and louder. The snare begins, the piccolo joins, the rhythm drives, time for the brass! Fervor builds, an a cappella section in counterpoint ensues, and the intense rhythm again grabs the beats of our hearts!
“The Call to Prayers (Adhaan)” was an impressive and resonant Islamic prayer solo performed by Mace Dekker. It sounded similar to a recitative: speaking singing with an intensity that exemplified the lyrics of the prayer.
“Kyrie” (in its traditional Latin) belonged to the cellos and basses. At least that’s the warm melody that first greeted our ears and tugged at our hearts. The women opened the prayer, at times just the altos, then all women, then bringing in the men with strength, adding intensity with counterpoint, and returning to the theme from the beginning, ABA style.
“Save Me from Bloody Men” featured just the men in an English a cappella chant-like prayer and a surprise ending.
The rhythmic Latin choral harmony of “Sanctus” was full of energy with crisp cut-offs, effective accents, and a style reminiscent of Carmina Burana. I thought it was over when I heard the amazing regal “Gloria,” and then back down to the quietly intense and back to Gloria — so much teasing! It was wonderful!
“Hymn Before Action” was a total change of character, romanticism at its best. The choir had perfect blend. The power brought chills to my body and tears to my eyes.
“Charge!” began with brass joined by snare. Like a Roman movie filled with gladiators. Emperor-like, the brass continued to shine, the percussion continued to drive. Then the Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!
“Angry Flames” is really a tone poem at the beginning. The choir was exceptional at creating the horrifying sound that fit the words. The lyrics in English truly captured the scene of devastation after the bomb at Hiroshima. I cried for the agony and the shame. Rainsticks continued and were joined by trumpets, reflective of the trumpet solo for military funerals ("Taps").
After intermission, the piece resumed with more dominant strings, drawing us back into the story. Then the bells and the chimes set the air tingling. What’s next?
“Torches” continued the twentieth-century style. The instruments were minimal. The lyrics so moved me and the execution was so effective that I may not sleep tonight for the anguish in my heart: ”living torches.”
“Agnus Dei,” part of the Latin Mass, was redemptive. Beautiful harmonies and flowing melodies. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
“Now the Guns have Stopped” begins with a beautiful instrumental, then soprano Mary Anne Davis sings “Now you are not here” and my heart breaks.
“Benedictus” features a significant, poignant cello solo followed by layer upon layer of vocals, surprised by the intensity of “hosanna in excelsis” and a quiet return.
The superbly powerful “Better Is Peace” ended our evening by beginning with a fabulous snare and tambourine, joined by the piccolo. The men were particularly wonderful here. The piccolo was amazing! The voices truly rang out on this song, absolutely exuberant!
It was a marvelous concert, and I will look forward to the concerts coming on December 17th and 18th!
Oh what one can learn from reading the program: What an incredible gift they have in Ken Hardin! I had not realized that Sierra Master Chorale was only 8 years old — impressive. And there are more InConcert Sierra treasures in store for 2016-2017: orchestra, string quartets and the Vienna Boys choir — wow! Hope to see you there!
Nancy Bramlett is a Dramatic Coloratura Soprano from Kansas City, MO. She graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance. She has most recently studied with Marla Volovna in San Francisco and Zoila Munoz in Davis. Nancy has had the honor of traveling all over the US and to Europe with the Bradley University Chorale. She has sung in several choirs since then, as well as performing in opera and musical theater productions and singing solos for local churches, as well as weddings and memorial services. Nancy has directed choirs; taught voice, piano and Kindermusik; and has been a music director for musical theater. She is currently busy with Classical Music for Christ and as a regular soloist for Cottage Way Christian Church in Sacramento and the Placer County Youth Orchestra. Nancy resides in Rocklin with her husband Scott and three sons: Patrick, Riley and John.