The invitation to CSUMB’s Winter Gospel Concert read “This will be an elegant evening — formal attire is recommended.” And although the capacity audience didn’t exactly turn out in tails and tiara, there was a distinct festive feeling of joy and celebration. The comfortable sanctuary of Wellspring Church in Pacific Grove vibrated with the enthusiasm of a group of listeners eager to leap to their feet to clap and sway.
Under the direction of Carlos Tottress, the Gospel Choir and University Singers sang a substantial and energy-filled program of traditional, contemporary and jazz-infused gospel music. The choirs performed with untiring zest and concentration (everything was memorized). Almost every number featured one or more of the CSUMB students – far too many to be individually recognized here – and all performed with poise and unselfconscious directness.
A few highlights: Candy Thomas got things cooking musically with her powerful “I Need You Lord Jesus.” Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria” featured beautifully blended choral sounds as well as flute and string bass. And Emma Williams’s “Sooner Will Be Done” brought down the house with Richard Hall’s rock-solid keyboard accompaniment.
But the one absolutely irresistible segment came early: the Palenke Arts Youth Choir, a dozen or so little kids in illuminated reindeer antlers, singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to director Juan Sanchez’s inspired hand gestures. No one who saw Sanchez’s “Three French Hens” is likely soon to forget them!
Throughout the concert a tight and spontaneous pit band provided varied accompaniment in many styles. Especially striking was Tottress’s subtle Caribbean-infused arrangement to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” I only wish time had been available for the band to take an instrumental solo or two. (They played short interludes between groups.)
By the end of the concert, the young (and not-so-very-young) choir members seemed just as fresh and eager as at the start. A very happy and satisfied audience filed out into the crisp Winter night.