Talk about musical comfort food for the soul, Camerata Singers, under the direction of John Koza, Artistic Director and Conductor, presented Wrapped In Song. Audience members were virtually wrapped in a cocoon of not only familiar choral works but also some newer versions of familiar texts. The multi talented George Peterson demonstrated his more than nimble fingers accompanying Dan Forrest’s The Music of Living to start off the program. This accompaniment is a definite “wake-up” call for the singers to maintain balance. The more familiar The Eyes of All Wait Upon Me by Jean Berger followed in a gentler mood. Eric Whitacre used the poetry of Octavio Paz for his setting of A Boy and a Girl. Such poignancy of the image of young love savoring their togetherness stretched out on the grass, stretched out on a beach, until stretched out underground keenly touched the audience’s heart. The delightful premise and novelty of Anders Edenroth’s I sing, You Sing, features the alto section. Koza explained the set up of SATB music with the sopranos getting the melody, basses the foundation and usual root of chord, tenors the color and altos “whatever is left” harmonically. This alto section more than held their own getting to sing more than the three or four notes often assigned to the section.
By way of introduction, Koza related that at one point, Whitacre thought he might get to score music for Rudyard Kipling’s The Seal Lullaby for a possible Pixar film. He was excited and rapidly composed the music only to find out the decision was to go with Kung-foo Panda. What remained is the delicious choral version of the gentle night scene as presented by the singers. The cool bass note at the end of Always Singing, wonderfully demonstrated how voices “lock in” with solid foundation. He Never Failed Me Yet by Robert Ray featured three chorus soloists. Michael Russell’s rich bass sounded effortless sailing from the back row of the risers to the back of the church and beyond. Laurie Anderson’s rich alto likewise sounded as if the solo were made for her. Julia Turner’s soprano shines even when she is standing still, but watch out when she lets loose!
The second half started off with a familiar text getting a decidedly different treatment. Many are familiar with the St. Francis of Assisi Lord, Make Me an Instrument as often performed in church services. This version, as arranged by M. Roger Holland II, had more of a gospel treatment that worked. Another staple of choral groups is Daniel Gawthrop’s Sing Me To Heaven. The text was actually written by Gawthrop’s wife, Jane Griner. This soothing song describing ways to comfort, win my heart and finally mourn is a model of simplicity that ultimately lifts the spirit. Malcolm Dalglish is a product of the American Boychoir School in Princeton New Jersey. As such he has become very astute in writing for choral groups. His Hymnody of Earth is a staple of youth choral groups and his facility on hammered dulcimer goes without saying. As a father, he composed Little Potato as a paean to his newborn son. Again the novelty and delight of a song about a newborn hit all the musical right marks.
Langston Hughes’ poetry, Harlem Songs, is imagined into three sections by Gwyneth Walker. Walker’s textural work can be a challenge for singers, but a Koza hallmark is excellent diction and even without the helpful program notes, the imagery rang through. Walker’s setting truly takes this poetry to another dimension as evidenced by the tambourine sound effect the chorus provided without real tambourines.
Finishing the program was Keith Hampton’s Shout of Praise. As if the audience had not already been wrapped in wondrous song, this last piece definitely rocked the house. Visually, this rocked the singers as well with their smiles, happy voices, and overall enthusiasm.
Remembering a line from Hughes’ poetry – Song is a strong thing. Be sure to mark your calendars for Christmas with the Camerata Singers. Programs will be presented December 13, 14, and 15 in Salinas and Monterey.