Aria Women’s Choir, under the direction of Dr. Sean Boulware, presented She Sings! At First Presbyterian Church, Monterey, Sunday afternoon. Boulware chose this time to program new versions of familiar works as well as to introduce some exciting new works as well. Singers and audiences who are familiar with Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil” and the beautiful “Bogoroditse Devo,” have most likely heard and/or performed the mixed choir SATB version. Lucyanne Gordon has arranged this for women’s chorus and the effect is stunning. Purists might argue against excluding the Russian basses who plumb the depths, but this arrangement jelled beautifully especially with the parallel octaves and voices intertwined.
In addition to singing in Russian, this group also ventured in to Hebrew, Bulgarian, Latin, and isiXhosa (similar to Swahili). “Shiru L’Adonai by Zebulon M. Highben portrays Miriam singing and dancing after crossing the sea and (“…horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” Exodus 15:21). Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s works are showing up more frequently on choral programs. “Tundra” sounds like one might expect the Northern lights to sound if they were singing – a beautiful sound scape of openness. Michelle Boulware’s solo soared over the group as ethereally as light in its precision. Gjeilo’s “Ubi Caritas” in the second half of the program again demonstrated that while the Faure’ version is somewhat of the gold standard, this version can certainly hold its own.
Eriks Esenvalds, a Latvian composer, is another composer of contemporary works becoming more popular. His “My Song” uses a text by Rabinidrath Tagore about the beauty of a song encompassing “like fond arms of love,” “a kiss of blessing,” “a pair of wings to your dreams,” and finally “my song will live in you”. Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory are known for their arrangements of Spirituals. Their arrangement of “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down” was the ripping closer to the first half. As Boulware explained, placing a Spiritual last on a program follows a traditional “formula.” This piece is so exciting it deserves to be more of a showpiece and it definitely was.
The second half began with Andrea Ramsey’s “I See The Heaven’s Glories Shine” featuring the lovely voice of Julie Posey rising above the Emily Bronte text. This is a very empowering song of faith and love that begins with a vocal fanfare announcing “No coward soul is mine” and ends with “and what Thou art may never be destroyed.” A most poignant “gift” from the very dark Holocaust times is words that have been found in various concentration camps and set to music as Michael Horvit has done with “Even When God Is Silent.” Words have outlasted their anonymous writers and none is more powerful than believing “in the sun when it is not shining,” “in love even when feeling it not,” “in God, even when God is silent.”
After a lovely new treatment of the folk song “Shenandoah” by Kevin Membly, this amazing group of women launched into “Indodana.” This fast paced isiXhosa language song featured a small ensemble of seven exquisitely matched voices backed by the chorus. This language was forbidden during apartheid time in South Africa and is slowly making a comeback. This song by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt originally was an apology to God for what man did to Jesus. A double meaning has become an apology for the time of apartheid and an almost national anthem. Now the apology is to Mother Earth as well as to God for the transgressions of these times. Christopher Tin is known for music in video games specifically “Baba Yetu” from Civilization. He has also written for choral groups and “Temen Oblak” (from the Drop that Contained the Sea) was a most fitting ending to this exciting program. In Bulgarian and at quite the vigorous tempo, it told the story of rain as a metaphor for troubled times. A young boy and his grandfather have a conversation regarding the strength of the raindrops. The percussion of Isaiah Boulware also enhanced the choral sound effects of the large raindrops. The younger Boulware is quite proficient on multiple percussion instruments used in various selections throughout the entire program. This was a most impressive way to end an already impressive program! It also must be reiterated that Michelle Galindo’s nimble fingers continue to handle anything in any style and make it look so effortless.
Continuing kudos to Boulware for his programming instincts and cohesiveness of voices in this most enduring women’s choir. Watching faces exhibit such exuberance and delight in what they are doing is an audience gift indeed. The next program for this group will be Diva Again! on June 9th and June 10th.