GREENSBORO, NC – Monday’s concert of the Bel Canto Company (BCC) with lots of company was a choral extravaganza, featuring a total of 150 voices! Five choirs in various arrangements presented a richly varied program that feature fine unaccompanied (a cappella) singing as well as works with piano, and with organ, brass, and percussion. The large sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church was filled with attentive and appreciative listeners.

The 35+ voice BCC began the evening with “Have Ye Not Known? / Ye Shall Have a Song” from The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson (U.S., 1899-1984). The declamatory, chorale-like first part is juxtaposed with a more lyric section with back-and-forth singing between the basso and treble singers. Young’s sensitive conducting brought out the ensemble’s trademark terrific blend.

The North Carolina A&T State University Choir (NCA&T) and the Gate City Voices (GCV) joined the BCC (a total of 100 singers) for an exciting performance of “The One Hundred Fiftieth Psalm” by Howard Hanson (U.S. 1896-1981), authoritatively led by NCA&T’s Director of Choral Activities, Travis W. Alexander. BCC accompanist Christy Wisuthseriwong supplied a solid foundation for this and several other pieces throughout the evening. This group of singers also presented a winning a cappella, mildly dissonant setting of “Jacob’s Ladder,” arranged by Calvin Hampton (U.S., 1938-84).

The combined choirs of BCC and NCA&T sang “Some Day” arranged by Nathan Carter (U.S., 1936-2004). Although the piece begins gently, the choral sound was enriched by a trio of female singers (Mariah Allen, Stacie Lyles, Sariah Williams) and a lovely solo (Kristi Barnes) before the triumphant conclusion which featured some stratospheric high notes from Barnes.

Two works were presented by NCA&T alone: “I, Too” by Undine Smith Moore (U.S., 1904-89) and “Changed My Name” by Linda Twine (U.S., b. 1945). The former sets a poem by Langston Hughes in a powerful setting, accompanied by pianist Rochelle Joyner. The latter featured lovely high note soloist Stacie Lyles and robust and passionate singing from conductor Alexander with lyrics by enslaved women Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

A rousing performance by NCA&T of “Witness” arranged by Mark Butler (U.S., n.d.) featured several solos, and in-synch swaying from the choir added some drama and motion. A gentle middle section included a good blend and a closing that brought out some wailing provided a spirited ending to the first half of the program.

Singers from all five choral ensembles came together to present the second half of the program. The three-movement I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes by Adolphus Hailstork (U.S., b. 1941) is scored for tenor solo, SATB chorus and a small collection of instruments and was composed in memory of Undine Smith Moore. This piano arrangement was wonderfully and sensitively played by Wisuthseriwong and featured great singing from tenor Robert Bracey. The first movement sets text from Psalm 121, with the tenor leading much of the music and the choir in response.

The second movement “How Long?” is a lament set in a minor key; a long piano introduction featuring a repeated note (a tolling bell?) sets the somber mood. Humming and ooh’s from the choir provide a gentle backdrop to Bracey’s plaintive and pleading voice. A dramatic climax was reached with some improvisation from individuals in the choir before the text “I will lift mine eyes” returns from the first movement.

The choir initiated the stately “The Lord Is My Shepherd, Alleluia,” with the tenor entering soon after. The tempo quickens over a repeated bass line, and the mood becomes animated before the final calm ending recalls the first movement’s sentiment. Young’s conducting was gentle or animated as called for, the choir eagerly responded to his gestures, and Bracey’s singing was inspired.

The evening concluded with the jubilant “Shout for Joy,” also by Hailstork and featuring instrumentalists John Alexander (organ), Justin Wheeler, Hannah Markun, Julio Jeri (trumpets), Jim Lane, Nick Lewis, Jared Gilbert (trombones) and Ian Jones (percussion). It was loud and ecstatic, with some a cappella moments, which supplied a calming contrast.

It was a great way to end an evening of wonderful music that brought together 150 singers in a completely satisfying program. The large audience enthusiastically applauded the singers and the four conductors: Young, Alexander, Jordan Rosser (Western Guilford High School Choir), and LJ Martin (Wheatmore High School Voices of Valor).