The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy
Hear My Song - May 29, 2015
by Griffin Toffler
Sacramento's Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy provides an education with a focus on fine arts for grades 6 through 12. This year's concert from the Vocal Department was titled "Hear My Song." It was a whiz-bang of a show, featuring 135 vocal students demonstrating their talents by way of 5 vocal groups directed by Kelly Cullity, along with several solo and duo acts. I can say little about Ms. Cullity's style of directing since she did not appear on stage for the duration of the show. Notwithstanding, she must have put forth a herculean effort in preparation for this event.
Each group performed a single piece, then swiftly left the stage to be replaced by another act only to reappear later in a different costume scheme. The program was well thought out in terms of variety of moods, lights, colors and costumes. Who would have thought elegance of stage setting could be so effectively achieved through little more than light, movement and costumes? There were 23 songs, many of them virtually epic in their arrangements and styles of delivery. But if that wasn't enough of a show, well then, all you had to do was come a little earlier to be entertained by students singing songs while the audience milled about to find their seats. These songs were already in progress when I entered. As far as I know, nothing was said about who those students were and what they were singing. I wondered if they were singing originals, only because they sounded so personal, not because the songs sounded at all amateurish. They were every bit as good as songs you would hear on the radio.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
When all were seated, the concert, which was divided into two "acts," commenced. A core group accompanied the singers throughout the show: a pianist, a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer. The program we were given did not list the composers or the arrangers of the songs, so I can only report what I know about them. Some of the arrangements were so powerful I wish I could pay tribute to whoever created them. One such arrangement was "How to Disappear Completely," a Radiohead song done by the Vocal Ensemble. "Shadowland" from Lion King was also an incredible arrangement. Some of the arrangements were built up effectively by starting with solo parts and then gradually adding on more and more voices and harmonies until a grand finale of vocal sound rocked the theater.
At times, the choice of songs did not seem to resonate for the singers, possibly due to nothing more than lack of experience. For instance, in referring to the choice of the song, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," the friend who accompanied me to the concert pinned it down with these words, "You have to have left home" (referring to the lyrics, "I left my home in Georgia") to effectively sing that song. It can be hard to balance what the students want to sing with what songs can be most appropriately and effectively pulled off within the limitations naturally imposed upon them by their youth. Radiohead's "Creep" requires a certain maturity of delivery in order to prevent a deeply introspective song treating the complexity of human feelings, from morphing into a pity party or something worse. Add to that challenge the fact that some words had to be censored. There is a big difference between "What the hell am I doing here?" and "What the heck am I doing here?" Perhaps if the not-so-offensive word "hell" had been allowed, the song would have come across with more depth.Songs that came across with full intensity were "Don't Be on the Outside" and "How to Disappear Completely," both sung by the Vocal Ensemble, "Twist and Shout" performed by Vocal Workshop A, "I want you Back/ABC" from Vocal Workshop B, "He Loves Me," by soloist Alondra Botello, and the combined group performances of "Shadowland," "Thank you for the Music" and "Hear My Song." The latter was the final piece which started out by featuring solos by the 10 graduating seniors and ended in a grand finale of all the vocal classes surrounding the audience from the stage and all the way up the aisles on both sides as they sang their hearts out. This ending was so positive and full of life and drive, I didn't want it to stop. Seeing these youngsters perform in such a superbly staged show made for a very entertaining evening.
Griffin Toffler attended Longy School of Music and Morehead University as a music major for 3 years. Although she went on to be successful in her field after obtaining an MA in Clinical Psychology at John F. Kennedy University, she has often thought of returning to college to complete her degree in music education. She is currently taking conducting classes at CSU Stanislaus. Her first voice teacher, Olga Averino, was a major influence in Griffin's life. Griffin hopes to, in some small way, pass on to others some of the wisdom she learned from Madame Averino. Her website is www.griffintoffler.com.