The Vocal Art Ensemble
COMPASS: From the Four Corners of the Earth - April 25, 2014
by Nancy Bramlett
A delight for the ears and eyes! First of all it must be said that I enjoyed this concert so much that I have vowed to attend all future concerts of the Vocal Art Ensemble. I ran home and emailed all my friends to encourage them to come to the next performance!
The Vocal Art Ensemble, born in 2008, is a twenty-three member a cappella adult chorus of trained musicians dedicated to presenting wonderful dynamic repertoire meticulously prepared and lovingly performed. Impressive from the first is that all the music is memorized, second is the enthusiastic performance in both voice and body, third is the incredibly accurate pronunciation of many different languages, fourth is the incorporation of much movement to the music. VAE is directed by Tracia Barbieri. Tracia does a superb job of crafting a program that uplifts and intrigues, as well as transports audiences into pure pleasure. Her directing also develops the talent of the members and elicits marvelous results.
The concert began on a rainy Friday evening. The inside of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Sacramento, built in 1955, was warm and welcoming. The VAE will soon be on tour in England and Scotland. We were blessed to have a sneak peak of what will surely be a hit over the waters.
Tracia Barbieri began by explaining that the concert was entitled “COMPASS” and that the four sections of the concert were based on the cardinal directions of the compass, circumnavigating the world from the starting point of view of the middle of the Atlantic.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
We started in the West, with American-themed music starting with the warm traditional American hymn, “Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal,” featuring Elisabeth Reeves, George Haver and Liese Schadt. It’s fabulous dynamics, strong soloists and rousing rhythm were a wonderful start to the evening. Then there was a magnificent depiction of “Autumn” by Joshua Shank (b. 1980). It painted an incredible word and music picture of the season with exquisite descriptive harmonies and dynamics, ending in a whisper... Absolutely gorgeous! The West also included two brilliant surprises: Andrew Hudson’s (b. 1990) “Here's a Bottle” and Christina Dolanc’s (b. 1976) “Silence.” Both composers are members of the group, talented people and I hope they will pursue their writing with passion. “Here's a Bottle” was based on the 1787 poem by Robert Burns. Andrew caught the spirit with lively music and infused his fellow musicians with it. The piece was warm and witty and thoroughly enjoyed by the music-makers and audience. “Silence” was a sparkling contrast with bass pedal notes sustained while luscious harmonies built overhead: “Silence, innocence, breath, eternity, of what is yet to come.” I gained an instant appreciation of the intense, new harmonies. I hope to hear more from both Andrew and Christina's pens – or computers, as the case may be. The West departed with a lively spiritual, basses leading the way in “Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord,” featuring Cheryl Covert and Bill Andrews doing a great job and giving the audience some foot-tapping fun!
Then Tracia shared that we were headed to the cold, dark North with music from Sweden, Russia, and Poland. The tone of the set was hushed and dark as the selections represented the dark of winter in the North. Program notes and lyric translations would be helpful here, since my knowledge of these languages is quite limited. We started with Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist’s (b. 1957) “Natt Over Jorden” with echoes and waves of sound, arousing curiosity: ”Night on our earth now has fallen, Shimmering starlit, sheen!” The pronunciation of the foreign languages here and elsewhere was impeccable, very impressive! “Zoriu Byut”by Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) then featured Christina Dolanc, Ashlyn Barbieri and Chris Dolanc. It had an ethereal sound with an unusual high soprano ostinato. Christina Dolanc's solo had a beautiful pure tone and perfect pitch. Ashlyn Barbieri was a bit under pitch but might have been nervous with the first performance. Chris Dolanc had a full, resonant tone, but the last note was slightly strained. “Dalarna,” a Swedish folksong without words, featured Liese Schadt and Christina Dolanc. Its mysterious, haunting melody was in keeping with the theme. “Beata es, Virgo Maria” ended the set. It is a madrigal from Mikolaj Zielinski (1560-1620), the most important Polish composer of his time. The song is translated, “Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, that didst believe in the Lord. Those things shall be performed in thee that were told unto you by the Lord.” A full sound, plus movement and quicker tempo signaled our transition to the East.
Tracia explained that the East was represented by the heart of Europe, the birth of cultural influence, and looking to spring. The set began with “We Sing and Chant It” by Thomas Morley (c. 1557-1602). For this English piece the singers were arranged in four groups, and the music was cheerful and energetic. It was followed by “In Manus Tuas” or “In Your Hands” by John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558). The Latin translation is “Into Your hand I commend my Spirit. Thou Hast Redeemed me, God of Truth.” The slow and reverent tone of the plainsong matched the message, this time in a semi-circular arrangement. (I must say here that the varied arrangements of the singers throughout the concert were delightful, adding texture to the music, as well as to the eye.) “Dulaman” by Michael McGlynn (b. 1964) was an impressive show of the talent of the men of VAE. Solos by George Haver, Cliff Ohmart, Rob Woodman and Doug Barbieri were quite well done and full of fun. Gaelic is not an easy dialect to pull off. “Byla Cesta,” a traditional Moravian song arranged by Kitka, provided an intensely moving experience with a fabulous solo by Katie Henry. The women glided around Katie, carrying candles and singing, transporting us all to Eastern Europe. The Eastern set ended with “Sing Joyfully” by William Byrd (c. 1540-1623). The English song lived up to its name and set up a marvelous move to the South.
Before the last set Tracia explained that we should be expecting “summer, teeming with life, a little bit more of the raw, untamed areas of our world, lots of activity, lots of vibrancy of color, of summer.... So to honor that tribal spirit, we’re going to have our attempt at movement and dance, just to celebrate the vibrancy of our world.” The South began with “Tres Cantos Nativos,” a traditional Krao Indian song. Though I have had a number of favorites at this concert, this one was amazing! We were IN the rainforest! Such imagination and abandon in voice and body– delightful! Next we moved from Brazil to Mexico, where we heard the women perform the rhythmically complex and playful “Las Amarillas” (“The Yellow Lark”) with enthusiastic expression. Then Tracia shared that the next song was cheating with a different view of WAY down South, an explanation that was greeted with appreciative laughter. “Double, Double Toil and Trouble” (Jaakko Mantyjarvi, b. 1963) brings smiles and laughter to my face even now. So imaginative and dramatic! “Hamba Lulu” (a traditional Zulu wedding song) brought to mind a picture of the African desert. The message is wonderful: “Oh be silent and you should listen to all things” – good advice for us all.
I thought we were done, but surprise! One of my favorites was yet to come. After terrific applause, we were presented with a treat of an encore. It took us about a minute to grasp the entire picture, but it was wonderful! Then we laughed and laughed! The song is called the “National Weather Forecast” by Henry Mollicone (b. 1946). I won’t spoil it for you. You can Google it, if you wish. And then a second encore “A Boy and a Girl” by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) ended the concert poignantly, speaking of tender love.
I must congratulate Tracia Barbieri for her hard work, incredible creative planning and beautiful, enthusiastic manner of directing that must pull the absolute best out of the members of VAE. Congratulations also to the members who obviously put in countless hours to memorize all the words (especially the foreign languages), expression and movement to create such a wonderful performance. I wish them the best on their tour and look forward to their next concert with great anticipation! (I did purchase a sneak peak backward at another of their performances, so I can have more fun in between concerts.) I hope you grab the chance to see their next performance in Sacramento! They’ll be performing next at SacSings! – The Sacramento Choral Festival at the Harris Center in Folsom on June 14 and 15.
Nancy Bramlett is a Dramatic Coloratura Soprano from Kansas City, MO. She graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance. She has most recently studied with Marla Volovna in San Francisco and Zoila Munoz in Davis. Nancy has had the honor of traveling all over the US and to Europe with the Bradley University Chorale. She has sung in several choirs since then, as well as performing in opera and musical theater productions and singing solos for local churches, as well as weddings and memorial services. Nancy has directed choirs; taught voice, piano and Kindermusik; and has been a music director for musical theater. She is currently busy with Classical Music for Christ and as a regular soloist for Cottage Way Christian Church in Sacramento and the Placer County Youth Orchestra. Nancy resides in Rocklin with her husband Scott and three sons: Patrick, Riley and John.