Women's Voices Chorus led by Allan Friedman continues to cook outside the kitchen; in the concert hall. They presented a concert under the menu of "America the Beautiful Mosaic" featuring eclectic side dishes in diverse styles from a wide selection of American ethnic groups. Included were songs of American Shakers, on Native-American and Latino-American texts, by Jewish Americans, from stage and screen - classical American, new American, the American South and African-Americans. In short, it was a sort of variety show: fun, moving, and nostalgic, and a fine opportunity to parade the diverse talents of this unique chorus.
The Shaker songs included "Sweet Prospect" by William Walker (1809-75) and "Followers of the Lamb," a New York Shaker hymn arranged by Richard Dietterich and adapted for women's voices by WVC director Friedman. Each was spiced with soloists from the chorus, and the second had added percussion. They were lively and both were enthusiastically done without music in hand.
Next on the program, two songs from Gail Trembly's Indian Singing in 20th Century America were sung; one in an English translation and the second was sung in native dialect with spoken English. The musical settings were put together by Ron Jeffers (b.1943). A certain mystical and spiritual quality was present in the singing, chanting, and drumming in these selections.
The WVC Chamber Choir sang "A Small but Fateful Victory" by Roger Bourland (b.1952) and the full chorus sang "Both Page and Pen" by the same composer. Both are treatments of Latino-American texts by Francisco X. Alarcón. The first of these was a whimsical tale of a young woman refusing to do the dishes and the second, a sensuous and intimate love song.
Songs of Jewish Americans were represented by "Mayn Rue Plats" (My Resting Place), a Yiddish folk song, arranged by Alan Weiner. It is a wistful song that combines love, companionship, and death, set to a soulful melody; it nearly had me blubbering. "Lebn Zol Columbus" by Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl was a different story altogether, a wry and witty song about America's wonders. WVC accompanist Deborah Coclanis, in this work and several others as well, displayed her exceptional artistry in a variety of styles.
Next we heard four selections from the American stage and screen. The ever popular "My Funny Valentine," by Rodgers and Hart and arranged by Jeremy Landig,* was sung by the Chamber Choir. Irving Berlin's classic, "Cheek to Cheek," as arranged by Kirby Shaw, was sung by the full chorus. "It Don't Mean A Thing" by Duke Ellington was next, and the set closed with "The Erie Canal" by Thomas S. Allen, arranged by Clifton J. Noble, Jr.
After an intermission, two classical American music selections, both with the same title - "Alleluia" - were heard. The first, by Naomi Stephen (b.1938), was spiced with percussion, and the second was the iconic a capella anthem by Randall Thompson.
The next items on the concert menu were two new American works receiving their world premieres. Both selections were from Emily Dickinson and set to music by Jayne Swank, who was at the concert. "I never saw a Moor", was conducted by Rachel FitzSimons, a WVC singer and chorus director at Sandy Ridge Elementary School. "If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking" was conducted WVC member Lindsey Hayek, who is also director of Northern High School's chorus. Swank is a recent graduate who is living and teaching music in Philadelphia. Her settings of Dickinson's poetry were sensitively composed and beautifully performed.
Songs of the American South began with "Shenandoah" arranged by Mary Goetze (b.1943) and conducted by Laura Delauney, another multi-talented singer who is a former director of the Durham School of the Arts Chorus who also acts as assistant Conductor of WVC. Her mastery at conducting was apparent in quiet subtle attacks and wondrous sustained singing.
This was followed by "Shady Grove", arranged by Shirley W. McRae (b.1933) and then by "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," Mack Wilberg's arrangement of the Isaac Watts Psalter hymn. Flute and oboe were added to the lilting flavor of this piece.
The final category was songs of African-Americans and featured "Deep River" in a new luxurious arrangement by Alex Blake and an intense and soulful arrangement of "Wade in the Watah" by Ysaye M. Barnwell.
For an encore, Friedman chose "Big Dogs, Music, and Wild, Wild Women". Friedman owns an 85 pound dog, his love of music is no mystery, and the wild, wild women are, of course, the WVC. The words and music were by Ruth Huber. It was a blast.
Tribute is due sensational Coclanis, the piano accompanist, Sidney Curtis, oboe, Linda Metz, flute, Jennie Vaughn, percussion, and the host of soloists from the chorus who added so much to the program. The concert was fun and thoroughly enjoyable. Women's Voices Chorus was refined where they needed to be, a little raunchy where they needed to be, and saucy where they needed to be. This program was a fine demonstration of a wide variety of music that makes up the American mosaic.
This program will be repeated on 1/22. For details, see the sidebar.