The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Colla Voce Chamber Singers
I'll Be Home for Christmas - December 13, 2015
by Laurie Colombo
What is the first thing that happens in any choral setting? Of course — a warm up! So both chorus and audience ran through a few warm-up exercises with Director Janine Dexter.
The show began as the lights dimmed and small candles lined the stage. Members of the chorus lined up on both sides of the theater. Bells, piccolo, and a liturgical poem set the scene for one of the most memorable performances I have seen. The men began humming to “Silent Night” and the women joined in as the singers processed onto the stage.
Dexter wanted the theme of this show to be “home” and "Christmas memories," as the title indicates. And in keeping with this theme, throughout the evening scenes of family and Christmas were projected on the big screen at the back of the stage.
(The accompanying program lists all the music performed. Click here to open it in a new window.)
Moving forward in the program, “O Come Emmanuel,” a 12th-century plainchant, was sung softly but with a great deal of support. Soloist Timothy Smith was powerful. The program moved smoothly from song to song with only occasional breaks for applause. I was instantly impressed by the way the group focused on the director.
The chorus changed formation throughout the performance. Initially standing in front of the stage, they then proceeded to the risers and began the spirituals. “Mary, What You Gonna Name That Pretty Little Baby?” and “Go Where I Send Thee” were both animated and lively. “Go Where I Send Thee,” a traditional African-American spiritual, had a distinctive Caribbean feel to it. Rapt attention to the director ensured excellent endings and dynamics.
“Ave Maria,” with violin accompaniment, swayed like the flow of the sea — rising and falling, softer and louder. “Adonai Maon” featured the talented Dawn Malicoat as soloist. “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter is always one of my favorites. The vocals of this group are exceptional. They can deliver pure notes with no one voice standing out, often effectively singing as one voice.
Colla Voce always includes a special Hannukah message, and this time the very moving “Hine Ma Tov,” a Hebrew folk song, was performed with some outstanding tenor parts.
Mel Torme's “The Christmas Song” featured soloist Bethanee Hunnicutt. “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” was a fun number that used hand plucking and head bobs to emphasize different parts of the music. “What's This?” from Nightmare Before Christmas showed that the group has other talents, as well. This was an animated comedic song performed by a small group of theatrically-inclined choir members.
The next portion of the program spotlighted the Colla Voce Children's Chorus, directed by Anne Vaaler. It included members as young as 5 years old. A few of the older kids played the xylophone to set the beat to a few numbers. “Christmas Dance of the Shepherds” was accompanied by Carol Coe on piccolo.
The Children's Chorus showed amazing composure even though a few of the little girls could not stand still! Sometimes distracted but enjoying each moment, they were a pleasure to watch. Once again the standing arrangement was fluid with some children sitting on stage as the older members took front and center. They sang several traditional carols as well as “Christmas in Less than Three Minutes,” “Good Night,” a Russian song, and “You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” a Dr. Seuss-based tune.
Another set change came as Frances Wheaton in her kerchief read “T’was the Night Before Christmas” with the children at her feet. Her inspired delivery certainly brought back childhood memories to all.
Then it was audience participation time with sing-along parts to “White Christmas” featuring Anne Vaaler as the soprano soloist. “O Holy Night” spotlighted soloists Nicole Toppel and Don Thomas.
The program ended with a nice arrangement of “I'll Be Home for Christmas” by Kevin Robison. It was performed softly with great support and the benefit of sign language for the hearing impaired. The exit song “Auld Lang Syne” echoed as the chorus left the stage and joined the children to walk down the aisles singing and using sign language. It was a gracious exit — mingling with and greeting the audience. It once again brought the program back to the theme of “home.” We all felt part of the memories. And I, for one, will indeed hold this memory in my heart for some time!
Thanks to the instrumentalists, as well, who added so much to the program. Emma McAllister on violin, Angela Roland on piano, Vivian de la Cruz-Stanley on flute and Leigh Dexter on percussion were all wonderful musicians.
Colla Voce began in 2005 as a group of chamber singers. It is now over 30 strong. In addition to the Chamber Singers and the Children's Chorus, there is also a Family Choir for anyone who wants to sing. A new docent program promises to use music therapy for various impairments.
The area is indeed fortunate to have such a diverse musical organization. This was one of the most exciting Christmas concerts I have witnessed. The theater holds 340 people, and I would guess that it was almost full. Colla Voce has made an impression on me — and I’m sure on many others!