Dick Frantzreb: A concert that touches ‘The Heart of Christmas’
Heart: I’ve seen and felt it in every performance of Colla Voce Chamber singers that I’ve attended over the past seven years.
It’s expressed in the humanity of so many of the musical selections, in the appreciation of other art forms, in the persistent motivation to connect with Colla Voce’s larger community, and in the warmth expressed towards their audiences.
The first of Colla Voce’s 2019 Christmas concerts — “The Heart of Christmas” — took place recently at Auburn’s Pioneer Methodist Church. (Colla Voce Chamber Singers regularly perform in Grass Valley. This concert was repeated at Grace Lutheran Church on Dec. 14.)
The concert program included a message from Artistic Director Janine Dexter in which she expressed her desire to “create a concert experience of serenity and peace.” And what could be more peaceful than the sounds of a harp? So the concert started with an extended performance by harpist Emily Mader whose work throughout the evening was simply dazzling.
The first set of six pieces was performed without breaks for applause. The music wove a tapestry of thoughtful, even reverential emotions. Throughout this set, I noted the pure tones, the expressive singing, and the beautiful harmonies. Another highlight was the playing of Angela Roland at the piano.
At this point in the concert we were introduced to something else you don’t see in choral concerts — storytelling. Colla Voce had invited community members to submit favorite Christmas stories, and before eight of the subsequent musical selections, a team of readers took turns reading these stories. And they weren’t so much readers as actors, bringing out the humor, nostalgia — and heart — in each story.
The musical selections were a variety of familiar and unfamiliar songs. None of these arrangements were traditional: there were often familiar melodies, but each arrangement was concert-worthy. And whether comforting and lulling or energetic and exciting, each was attention-getting, thought-provoking and esthetically pleasing to this frequent concert-goer.
Eventually, the pleasing but subdued concert became a lot more spirited. Singers appeared at the front of the church wearing scarves and caps. A quintet performed “Where Are You Christmas?” from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in an arrangement that had pop music stylings. “Mary, Did You Know?” was performed in a similar style by a different quintet. Other lively songs followed.
With the concert drawing to a close, the full chorus took up seating positions at the front of the church, and the lights went down for a performance of “Christmas Memories.” During the song, snapshots of Christmases past were projected on a screen above the altar. They had been contributed by past audience members to represent the “Heart of Christmas” that lives in each one of us.
A modern arrangement of the ancient Latin hymn, “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” provided an exciting finale to an evening of audience-pleasing music and stories. Then with chorus members dispersed throughout the church, we joined them in singing “Silent Night,” then “Auld Lang Syne.”
With the concert concluded, the singers reached out to individual audience members, most still seated, shaking their hands and thanking them for coming. This went on for several minutes and was done with such sincerity that I’m sure each of us felt that we had been given a heart-felt gift.
That’s certainly how I felt.
Dick Frantzreb is editor of the Capital Region Performance Gallery and the Sacramento Choral Calendar. He lives in Roseville.
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