The Sacramento Choral Calendar



Concert Review

Sacramento City College Choirs and Commercial Music Ensemble

POP ROCKS  - May 2, 2017

by JR Keith

This past Tuesday evening, I'm sure my exuberance showed in my smile as I crossed the grounds at Sacramento City College (SCC) toward the Performing Arts Center. The SCC Choral and Commercial Music Ensembles (CME) had teamed up with award-winning, singer/songwriting artist, Roem Baur, to present “POP ROCKS — A Contemporary Pops Concert.”

(Click here to open the program in a new window.)

After receiving our tickets, we picked up a packet of strawberry Pop Rocks on the Will Call table, and took our programs to our seats.  With the hall about 1/3 full, the choristers, band, and vocalists entered, taking to their instruments and mics, and SCC Choirs, CME, and Baur began an electrifying, made-it-their-own, Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk!” I had to stop seat-dancing — it's a thing — so that I could take a few notes. I could tell that this lively audience was embarking upon a rollercoaster of a good time! These cats were giving it up. I could feel the fire, and all I wanted to do was dance and sing. I was sure the fire department had been notified.

Throughout the evening, Baur shared his voice, soul, sweat and spirit alongside a stage full of brilliant SCC musicians. Many times Baur shared introspective moments that rang true for so many in the audience, their heads nodding. He had served a 2017 Spring Semester residency at SCC (see program for the details), and during that time I'm sure he connected with many students, artists, musicians and teachers alike. “I'm so grateful to have worked with these talented musicians this semester,” he said at one point. The man oozes sincerity, musical brilliance, and thoughtful confidence — my favorite combination in any entertainer. “I recall my first church solo," he quipped at one point, "I was scared to death.”  Well... those pangs of fear were gone from the stage tonight: we were in the presence of a Cool Daddy with amazing pipes!

The SCC Chorus gave a gorgeous rendition of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” The guys began softly, bashful almost, but crescendoed delicately while handing over the melody to the ladies. This chorus has chops! “Centered. Balanced. Confident,” I wrote. The lovely echoes raised goosebumps as I settled into this concert feeling “comfortably wrapped in their balance and blend.”

CME was up next with some electronic pops, plug-in clicks, and a late entry onto the stage. However, this easy-on-the-ear vocal ensemble accompanied by their equally talented band created moments where once again I wanted to dance with my honey in the aisles! Moriah Spencer gave us her marvelous spin on Chaka Khan's “Tell Me Something Good.” I savored her rich, luscious voice.

Next on the line-up, VOCALe stood in a semi-circle as Baur lavished upon us an emotionally charged, Pentatonix arrangement of “Hallelujah.” Since I still mourn the loss of Leonard Cohen, I find myself critical of artists sharing this song — here's to hoping this pain subsides. At the top of the song, I'm not sure what went awry, and I'm not going to get into some of the “missed” opportunities of musicality early in the piece. BUT WOW! I experienced what could have been:

1. An a cappella piece restart (these things happen);
2. A crash-and-burn (the best part of it was that it was over); and...
3. A remarkable finish! These professional, experienced, consummate musicians brought it together for a terrific ending.  The turnaround was so impressive that I found myself profoundly moved by the experience.

I'll briefly synopsize the rest of the program

• They performed Billy Idol's “Rebel Yell,” led by Dillion Maxwell Spencer who channels a Cobain-Idol-Yorke voice that smacked of pure angst with just the right balance of gravel and grace.
• Jacquelina Pesola delivered an authentic, superb variation of Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time.” The subtle, tempo difference added an enjoyable nuance; too bad the snare needed dampening.
• VOCALe stunned us with Baur's original song, “No More Sunsets” arranged by SCC's Josh Hanson. Before the song began, Baur offered these words: “Artists like us upon this stage go through some very high-highs and sometimes particular low-lows … and it's you, our audience, that sustains us.” I pulled out my phone and Googled “Baur+No More Sunsets.” Here are some of the lyrics that I found:

No more sunsets, no more lullabies
No more freckled clouds on endless skies
No more holding your face, in my hands, lost in your eyes
No more chemistry, no more, could you be?
No more love for me.

• Spencer teamed with Baur for a dynamic Doobie Brothers tune, “Long Train Running.” This piece showcased all the CME singers with the tightly woven harmonics and guitar, bass, piano, and percussion runs-galore. Saaa-weet! CME then segued into “Mary Jane.” Soloist Ellwood Allen, Jr. pulled this one off but could still tap a little deeper into his self-confidence; you had moments that moved me, Ellwood! Rick James has “big shoes to fill” — you already have what it takes to fill them!
• The pace slowed down a bit when Rachel Harmon and Faye Taylor entered the stage to gift us with their voices. Christina Perri's “A Thousand Years” may have been my favorite piece of the night. All I can say is that your blend still rings in my head. In my notes, I observed that the lead's control matched with the alto's “slight hesitation [that] made this song new again. Your magical timidity created an authentic moment for me.” The chorus was exemplary here!
• Mumford & Sons never had it this good in Sacramento! Your “Little Lion Man” kept my foot stompin' so much I couldn't read too much of what I wrote down. Sierra Solbrack: you were on fire! The banjo, harmonica, vocals... got another “saaa-weet!”
• Alexa Irvin—the soloist for the Mars' hit “Locked Out of Heaven,” you opened my heart with your gorgeous, magnetic tones! You kept it fresh and fascinating for your audience.

Then entire cast of musicians left us with Adele's arrangement of Bob Dylan's “Make You Feel My Love,” with Baur doing the solo work. I deeply appreciated and connected with this song and these musical muses throughout this entire magical evening.

I was taken aback when Baur shared that he didn't have musical instructors who taught (much less discussed) modern Pop, Funk, Rock, Jazz... or, sadly, Blues. Tonight’s show owed its success to the vision of Sacramento City College Professor of Voice & Choral Music, Daniel Paulson, and if you haven’t heard this name spoken in the musical/choral world of Sacramento yet, you have not been listening. Paulson, in turn, was blessed to have Baur for this residency. And how fantastic was it for all involved that a mini-grant provided by the Los Rios Community College District made Baur’s residency possible. Let me paraphrase some of Baur’s gracious words at the beginning and end of the concert:

“I don't want … just a musical performance [with SCC & CME]... but [I want this] to be the beginning of dreams... we are gonna give a little Rock-n-Roll... some Blues... It's probably the perfect show for anyone out there with slight ADD!” Then he added at the end of the concert, “These guys [acknowledging the music students surrounding him] inspired me—they humbly and earnestly helped me to give back to them. [There is so much work that] these guys have put into this program. I'm grateful... and applaud all that they've done here.”

By mid-concert, students, parents, faculty had doubled the size of the audience, which continued to grow until the last song was sung. And that's how open concerts — free to students and faculty — go sometimes. So here is my advice to students, neighbors adjacent to SCC, members of other choirs, donors to this (or any) music program, Board Members, faculty, staff... anyone reading this review: If you have yet to make it to a Sacramento City College choral performance, make it a priority to catch the next concert of these hard-working, accomplished musicians.

JR Keith has worn a variety of hats: director, soloist, small and large ensemble member, tenor/baritone, and event planner of choruses from Texas to California, such as FBC Frisco, TX; CCCC Jazz Choir; DBU Chorus; several mission/worship teams; Sanctuary 101; Collin County Community Choir; Turtle Creek Chorale; Dallas Symphony Chorus; Amador Choraliers; and the Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus.

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