The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Roseville Theatre Arts Academy Community Choir
An Evening Serenade - July 15, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
The Roseville Theatre Arts Academy (RTAA) Community Choir is part of the RTAA operation based in the Roseville Theatre in — where else? — Roseville. RTAA is an educational operation that puts on shows for children and stages theatrical productions for various ages of actors, small children through adults. The Community Choir operates as a class for those age 13 to adult. They meet for an hour on Monday nights in 4-week sessions, more or less continuously throughout the year. The charge is $40 for each 4-week session.
There are no auditions, and during the sessions the participants learn sight reading, singing technique, and principles of harmony. The big emphasis is on having fun, and that was evident in what I’ll say below about the performance I observed.
This is all a labor of love by Jennifer Vaughn, who has a long resume of experience in musical theatre and is currently the Musical Director and Vice President of the RTAA organization.
Started 5 years ago, the Community Choir has generally given a single public performance each year. Tonight’s event, “An Evening Serenade” was the culmination of work undertaken since the beginning of the year, but I understand, they’re thinking about another program at Christmastime.
What surprised me when I entered the Roseville Theatre on this evening was that they had planned to give their performance in the lobby, rather than on the stage of this 600-seat theater. That made everything a lot more intimate for the audience, largely composed of family, friends and RTAA-supporters, most of whom were seated at small tables, cabaret-style. And the tables were important because there was an impressive spread of complimentary food that practically overflowed the snack bar area.
The performance space was in a strategic corner of the lobby, where music stands had been set up. Nearby was a synthesizer, a drum set, and a sound board. The place was full of animated conversations until Jennifer Vaughn, seated at the synthesizer, began playing “The Sounds of Silence.” The singers, who were spread throughout the crowd, began singing in harmony and slowly moved into 2 rows behind the music stands. There were 14 of them (including 5 men).
From this point the performance proceeded at a pretty fast pace. There were no printed programs, and most selections were not announced. Instead, one piece followed another, with few opportunities for applause. I have to confess that nearly all the music was unfamiliar to me. I learned later that it included medleys from the musicals Finding Neverland and The Secret Garden, and songs called “Up the Ladder to the Roof” and “Some Nights.” There was a clever number that consisted of snatches of decades of pop songs and that demonstrated that they were all based on the same 4 chords. Another ambitious piece was an a cappella version of the “Axel F Theme” from the movie Beverly Hills Cop. The original of that song was instrumental, by the way, and the Community Choir performed it with what the musicologist would call “non-lexical vocables.” The finale was a medley of songs by Queen.
With the exception of that “Axel F Theme” and the Queen medley, which used a recorded accompaniment, all the music was accompanied on the synthesizer, from which Jennifer Vaughn directed only the beginning and ending of most of the songs. From the presence of the drum set, you can imagine that nearly all the numbers were upbeat — and you’d be right. And the upbeat quality of the music was emphasized by the tremendous joy expressed by the singers. Honestly, I have rarely seen people having such fun in a choral performance. And of course, those high spirits spilled over into the audience.
Nearly everything in the 45-minute performance was multi-part singing, and when incidental soloists came out front I heard a number of excellent voices. Despite the music stands, it appeared that many of the singers performed nearly all the program from memory. As I thought later about what I’d heard, my main impression was that these people were reveling in the joy of performing fun music with a group of what really seemed to be friends. I couldn’t call it a polished concert, but that’s not the point. The audience loved what they heard as much as the singers loved sharing their music. Ultimately people who can sing need an outlet for that talent, and when they have the opportunity to sing music they enjoy and can relate to — souls get nourished. Kudos to RTAA for providing this format (short sessions, emphasis on fun): there ought to be something like the RTAA Community Choir in every town.