The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Children's Chorus
Dancing through December - December 3, 2017
by Diane Boul
(This review sponsored by Karen Willstatter.)
Who hasn’t heard a children’s choir and thought, “How darling, how sweet, and how cute!” How about darling, sweet, cute, mature, poised, expressive, trained, talented, and disciplined? That would describe the Sacramento Children’s Chorus (SCC) as they presented “Dancing Through December.”
SCC amazed and entertained us on this late Sunday afternoon at the beautiful and festive Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento. This venue was appropriately large to handle the hundreds of people who made up the audience, with acoustics to enhance the vocal experience.
Keith Jacobson, pastor of the church, gave a short introduction to the choir, and then Daphne Quist introduced the new Artistic Director, Alex Grambow, and mentioned that they are beginning their 25th season as a chorus. While Grambow is the overall artistic director, he personally directs the two older groups, with Jessica Suderman managing the younger groups.
The four choir levels that participated in this concert were:
Level I (Music Makers), kindergarten to 2nd grade, are younger, less mature students who didn’t perform in this concert. The overlap in grade levels in due to different musical maturity levels.
Although this was not a recital, each group seemed to sing songs that highlighted what they had been studying, not just what they knew well and what they thought the audience would like. Each piece, however, was audience-appealing, and didn’t sound like “a study.” There were no repeats from last year’s program, and no fillers.
Another part of their experience was learning to combine singing and choreography, not easy at any age. This, and singing different genres of music, showed their versatility. They seemed quite comfortable whether singing ballads, jazz, swing, or classical. This show wouldn’t be considered “a kid’s show,” although I think it was mostly kid-friendly. Very polished, they sang everything from memory. Impressive!
With a couple of exceptions, the singers’ deportment was excellent. Their movement on and off the stage was admirable for so many little children and teenagers — a real tribute to the staff and probably to volunteer parents. The musical interludes provided by the piano accompanists and other instrumentalists also helped smooth this transition. On stage, the singers stood or moved as appropriate for the song, and all eyes were on the conductor. I would assume there were a few mistakes here and there, but I certainly didn’t notice. Very professionally poised youngsters! Costumes were basically black and white with a little splash of red bow ties here and there. I thought the little ones in white tuxedo shirts looked uncomfortable. Otherwise, costumes were not distracting.
Musical arrangements were by composers whose work I’ve sung in adult choirs (Gilpin, Snyder, Althouse, Clawson, Beck, Shaw, Huff, Bernon, and others); they may have sung child-friendly arrangements, but they didn’t sound simple.
I’ve heard the SCC in the past, and I was no less impressed this time. My only real criticism would be that the singers could look a little happier and their facial expressions could show more believability in the words they’re singing. There were some that did this very well, so I tended to watch them. I’m sure the younger singers will continue to practice their diction, but at their ages, adorable overrides diction.
The program began with an introduction by the entire choir of 75 singers, and a welcome to the audience. This upbeat number combined “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with original lyrics by Audrey Snyder, a favorite SCC arranger. Great articulation and diction made you want to sing along.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The young Allegro singers continued the program with songs that were age-appropriate, but that I’ve heard sung by adults. The sweet “December’s Rose” was lovely to listen to, but the lyrics were hard to understand. “Norwegian Dance” was an adorable upbeat number with choreography that didn’t interfere with their singing in the least. They finished the set with “Pat-a-Pan,” a very animated French carol. There are some little “hams” in that group!
Allegro later took the stage again to enchant us with “Reindeer Boogie,” which showed off their ability to perform the syncopated, boogie-woogie rhythms with key changes and choreography — seamlessly. And, yes, they were cute, too! “Swingin’ with Santa” combined “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Up on the Housetop” in a relaxed swing style, perfect for these young singers.
The well-known Catalan Christmas carol, “Fum, Fum, Fum,” was presented with good dynamics by the Brio chorus. The word “fum” means smoke; but I think the choir might have been imitating a drum or the strumming of a guitar. From Christmas in Spain to the celebration of Hanukkah, Brio gave us “Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl,” sung in Yiddish with exact rhythm and good timing. [Dreydl is a four-sided spinning top.] A smooth “Winter Wonderland” followed.
“Deck the Nutcracker Hall” is an ingenious pairing of words and music: the text of “Deck the Hall” set to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” It was sung by Brio, concentrating, with all eyes on their conductor. “As Long as There’s Christmas” from Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, and “Perfect Christmas Night” followed. Both were rhythmically well done, but I wanted to see more smiley faces. Over all, nice work, Brio!
Crescendo’s first set included “A la Nanita Nana,” a smoothly sung Spanish lullaby, and “Beautiful December,” a gorgeous lullaby by Amy Bernon, sung in unison, two-part harmony, and canonic style, with equally beautiful lyrics. Following was a “Magnificat” by Michael Haydn. I’d never heard this before, but I think it should be sung more often. It was a nice challenge for the soloists. The romantic piece, “The Snow,” was a highlight of the afternoon. It started out slow and soft and built momentum, one voice group upon another. I couldn’t understand the lyrics, so I looked them up; it would have been nice if the lyrics had been in the program. This piece showed Crescendo’s vocal range and technique, which were excellent and very uniform throughout the group. Crescendo is engaging, because they are engaged. It was my favorite piece of the afternoon.
Crescendo next presented “Gloria,” a contemporary arrangement with original lyrics by Eugene Butler. The singers of Crescendo were so attuned to their director: their cut-offs were precise and never did I hear a hanger-on. This precision made for a stunning performance. “Swingin’ at Santa’s Place” brought the audience the “cool cats” in sunglasses, swinging to the rhythms of Kirby Shaw. “Once Upon a December” is an elegant arrangement of the tender music box lullaby from the film, Anastasia. The singers really sold the lyrics and mood of this song. “Christmas Story” completed this set. It wasn’t sappy sounding, but heartfelt with no swooping entries. Good job, Crescendo!
Crescendo and Dolce came together to present Kirby Shaw’s buoyant arrangement of “Gaudete!” (Rejoice!). This was an opportunity for the four soloists to show their vocal flexibility with the Latin lyrics and joyful tempo.
Dolce began their sets with the young ladies singing Kirby Shaw’s jazz number, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” This was self-directed, very polished, and with a nice smooth jazz rhythm. They were completely in sync and blended well.
Later in the concert, the complete Dolce choir (5 young men; 9 young women) processed to the stage singing a lovely a cappella piece “Come Sing! Come Dance!” I’m a big fan of a cappella singing, and this was very satisfying, with lovely balanced harmonies. The “First Noel” sung to a violin accompaniment of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is a really great arrangement that lends itself very well to the “Noel” lyrics. I think everyone enjoyed this, including the singers. Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Gloria” is gloriously beautiful. It was sung with excellent diction, so that every Latin word was understandable, and the dynamics were sharp. Loved it!
With the exception of one person, Dolce consistently looked happy to be singing and presenting a fine concert. They made the audience smile. “Merry Christmas, Mozart” is a medley of Mozart pieces sung to the words of well-known Christmas carols. Their diction was crisp, a listening pleasure. I was pleased to hear Dolce’s version of “Sleigh Ride.” It wasn’t slow and draggy, but sung at the tempo written, with excellent articulation of consonants.
The finale brought all choirs together to sing, “Somewhere in my Memory” with a slide show of the singers with placards sharing their Christmas memories. This piece is from the movie, Home Alone, arranged by Audrey Snyder.
This was a stellar performance, from the precise conducting by the directors, to the excellent accompaniment by the pianists and other instrumentalists, to the very poised and well-prepared soloists, to all the children and young adults who sang their hearts out. Thank you all for a very special evening.