The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Children's Chorus
A Moment in Time - February 12, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
The “Après le Noël” concerts are a tradition with the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, performed regularly in the beautiful and acoustically-friendly St. John’s Lutheran Church. They’re a great idea. In late January or early February, there is no competition from other choruses – or just about any other community music organizations, for that matter. So they should draw a big audience. On this Sunday evening the church was pretty full, but not packed as it should have been. As with the audiences for other children’s choruses, I was surrounded by parents, current and past, and family members and patrons seemed to make up a large part of the audience. But all these people knew something you should know: the ensembles of the Sacramento Children’s Chorus consist of fine, alert and disciplined singers, led by gifted, caring professionals – and they make beautiful music while putting on a very entertaining show. For people like those of us in tonight’s audience, there was no difficulty in choosing between these kids and the Grammys being broadcast at the same time.
Artistic Director and Conductor Lynn Stevens told us at the start that this concert would be a “journey through time [with] most of the songs about love.” And it all began with everyone’s favorite song from Rent, “Seasons of Love.” This first part of the concert featured Cappella, the Sacramento Children’s Chorus’s most experienced ensemble, 10th graders and older. With most of the singers waiting in the aisles of church, a single soloist began the piece standing by herself on the stage. She was joined by 7 other singers, with the whole chorus taking the risers for the last half of the song.
This was the most joyful song from a very dark musical, and these young people really projected that joy. It was an emotion that I could perceive through the next several songs. (Click here to open the program in a new window.) I can’t say it was true for every person on the risers, but there were so many who were consistently animated. They had learned the joy and freedom of giving themselves to the music, and these people were such a pleasure to watch. I remember in particular 3 girls on the top row, who, through gestures and eye contact with each other, were having so much fun that it was completely contagious.
When I took time to analyze what I was hearing, I could perceive that these were clearly young voices, but young voices with good vocal control, as they performed a variety of musical styles, often with difficult harmonies and rhythms. I was also impressed by their careful enunciation, and the way their chords rang – an indication that they were listening carefully to blend with each other. Almost as important was the stage presence they displayed. So many of these young people were relaxed performers, making their music that much more entertaining.
This was especially true for me during the 3 Doo Wop numbers from the 1950s. The girls turned to put ribbons in their hair, and a couple of the boys came out front to be the lead singers. There was a bit of choreography – different for each number – and the whole thing was as cute as it could be. It was such a special pleasure for me to see these kids enjoying songs that I loved when I was their age (and the songs were new).
There were many special, unexpected moments in this concert, and one was when a 16-member girls’ ensemble performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Director Stevens explained that they had come to her wanting to plan and perform something on their own. With members from both the Cappella and Cantoris choirs, and directed by 18-year-old Cappella member, Maggie Huber, they gave a memorable performance: expressive, sensitive singing with beautiful, precise harmonies.
The Cantoris group took the stage next: 7th to 10th graders (though a few looked younger), bolstered by 8 members from Cappella. These were younger voices – clearly a treble choir, with at least some boys whose voices have not yet changed. They sang mostly 2-part music, but it was interesting, challenging music, each piece in a different style. And have I mentioned that every choral piece in this concert was performed from memory? It was especially fun to hear how they presented the two Bach pieces. The first was straight classical music, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well the young singers navigated the complicated runs. Then in a complete change, they delivered Bach in the style of the Swingle Singers, with bass and drum accompaniment and scat lyrics. More surprising still was that these young singers really got into the music, and I don’t think a single one stood still while performing the piece.
“Song of Peace” to the music of Sibelius’ “Finlandia” closed out the first half of the concert. I know this song well, and I was delighted to hear the words come through clearly in the first verse. With the inspiring music that accompanied them, I’d have to say that if there weren’t tears in the audience, then people just weren’t listening. But then there was a drastic change. The tempo became much faster and rhythmic with the accompaniment of a conga drum, and the lyrics changed to the Zulu language as the singers stepped from side to side. It was a sample of one of the features of SCC's Baltic tour concerts last summer, and it was grand. Here’s what I wrote in my notes: “I’ve heard them give a lot of concerts in the past few years, but I don’t think I’ve heard any more entertaining than this one.” I mentioned this to audience members near me, and they agreed enthusiastically.
The second half of the concert brought more surprises. First was a delightful instrumental duet by accompanist Kamilyn Davis and cellist Krystyna Taylor performing Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” I was nice to see Davis get the recognition of a moment to be the focus of attention. In recent years I’ve seen her accompany the Sacramento Women’s Chorus and lead her own Sacramento Interfaith Youth Chorus – just two of her many credits. I’ve always been struck by the versatility and energy of her playing, and that was evident on this evening. In the section with music from the 1950s, it seemed she never stopped smiling. That all changed to intense concentration when she was playing Bach later in the program or accompanying the opera duet. And that kind of smart, versatile accompanying is every choral director’s dream.
Every now and then, a concert comes along with a moment of sheer brilliance, and everyone knows instantly that they have witnessed something truly remarkable. In this concert that moment was provided by a duet called “Dôme Épais” or the “Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’ opera, Lakmé. It was performed by Carly Adamson and Destiny Elazier. With the Cappella choir seated downstage, these two young women, standing upstage and facing each other closely, gave an extraordinary performance. Their voices were not just good but cultured, perfectly balanced and seemingly effortless in handling what was challenging music, as they brought out the passion in the piece. Not only do I expect them to be adult soloists in the not-too-distant future, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them performing professionally in opera. There was a note in the program that Sacramento-based opera star and all-around professional singer, Carrie Hennessey, had coached these girls. I’m sure Hennessey was proud of their performance, and she wasn’t the only one. As soon as they finished singing, every person in the stunned audience rose with sustained applause – and well-deserved cheers.
The medleys from Porgy and Bess and My Fair Lady in the second half were examples of more good singing, full of personality and charm, but I have to say that they felt a bit anticlimactic after all that had gone before. The closing number, “Our Time” from the musical Merrily We Roll Along had lyrics with the spirit of “look out world, here we come,” and it was a high-energy piece, appropriate for the end of a concert like this.
The real climax to the concert – apart from that wonderful duet – came just before the last piece. And it was in the form of two speeches. The first was a testimonial by Maggie Huber. As a high school senior, she reflected on her years with the SCC, what it has meant to her and how she sees its supportive, community spirit. I think we were all impressed with how poised and articulate she was, speaking earnestly and without notes. She was followed by Ruanne Dozier, a mother of 5 current and past SCC singers, but also a prosecuting attorney. She spoke of her interaction with one particular at-risk young woman and how she wished the positive experience of SCC could be provided for her – and every young person in our community. Then she read an excerpt of a letter from one of her daughters, a sophomore in college. This daughter had suffered from mild cerebral palsy during her young life. It didn’t stop her from trying to participate in sports, dancing, and other activities, but she could never progress very far in them. Then she became part of SCC where she could “develop a talent that made her, not average, but exceptional.” I think I noticed Lynn Stevens moved by this heartfelt testimonial from one of her past singers – and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one who was moved. The Sacramento Children’s Chorus is not primarily a performance troupe: it’s an educational organization, with benefits that go far beyond learning how to sing in a choir. Recognizing that, I’m sure that there were many donation envelopes turned in as people left St. John’s reflecting on an entertaining and uplifting evening.