Once again the Monterey Peninsula Voices performed in the Golden State Theatre in Monterey. Even with all the past turmoil of the “state of the State,” this grand art deco surrounding was the perfect backdrop for the songs of Long, Long Ago – Songs of the Civil War Era presented by this lively community group of over 100 voices under the direction of Dr. Sean Boulware. As Boulware introduced the program, he noted the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. While a time of strife and upheaval, the music from the era has a depth of emotion, mournfulness, hope, melancholy, and humor as demonstrated in the evening’s repertoire.
The first half of the concert represented music of the “free” while the second half represented that of the “not free.” A new sound system helped to provide a more unified sound. Opening with a gentle arrangement of Long, Long Ago this ensemble softly caressed the wistful lyrics. Shape note style of Idumea with the tenor section around the piano provided an often mournful yet sound of strength. Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer gave a proper feeling of nostalgia while his If You’ve Only Got a Moustache offered the right touch of humor complete with hastily grown moustaches and solos by Russ Cureton and Richardson Masten. A Civil War Medley showcased the familiar tunes “Tenting On the Old Campground,” “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Dixie,” “Just Before The Battle Mother” featuring Keith Wolhart and John Lett, soloists, and finishing with “When Johnny Come Marching Home.” One of the loveliest arrangements by Fred Squatrito of Bright Morning Star was beautifully moving. Rounding out this first half were the vocal arrangement of Taps, and the choral gem Battle Hymn of the Republic arranged by Peter Wilhousky.
The second half of music representing the “not free” was filled with classic arrangements of spirituals and gospel music providing the background for work, hope and literal instructions for escaping on the underground railroad. Well known contemporary composers and arrangers Andre Thomas, Josephine Poelinitz, Greg Gilpin alongside such choral luminaries as Norman Luboff, Jester Hairston and Moses Hogan have created the myriad of choral music beloved by choruses large and small. It’s hard to single out a favorite among Ain’t Judgin’ No Man, All My Trials with Saturday soloist Diane Goldman, The Battle of Jericho, Keep Your Lamps!, Soon-Ah Will Be Done and Wade In The Water. This final selection featured Diane Ehlers with chorus back up entreating all to “wade in the water, children.” Keith Wolhart soloed a rousing In Dat Great Gittin’ Up Mornin’. Angela Drake, new to this area used her considerable vocal skills on Stand By Me with the smaller chamber singers group. Drake really wowed the audience with Poelinitz arrangement of City Called Heaven and received a well deserved standing ovation. She is definitely a talent to reckon with!
And finally, kudos to pianist artist Michelle Galindo who continues to make everything sound easy even with demanding scores. Boulware’s enthusiastic and infectious directing style carries over through the singers to the audience.