The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Master Singers
A Jubilant Song - May 17, 2105
by Nancy Bramlett
I had the immense pleasure of attending the Sacramento Master Singers concert on May 17th, 2015 at the First United Methodist Church in Sacramento. This is their 30th year and their experience is quite evident. Dr. Ralph Hughes' masterful leadership as Artistic Director and Conductor yields exciting results. Heidi Van Regenmorter is an accompanist extraordinaire. This 58-member choir is exceptional. A lucky group of 37 of them has been preparing for a tour of Scotland, coming up next month.
This was a “10 chill” concert!!
Let me explain. Each reviewer has their own style and way of measuring things. Among other things, I use what I call a “chill” factor. If a performance of a particular piece gives me “chills” of pleasure, it gets a special note. In a “good” concert I will get 2+ “chills.”
In this concert it was “chilling” throughout almost the entire performance.
For me, programming is extremely important and I give a standing ovation for the choices we heard tonight. Gorgeous melodies, harmonies, dissonances, rhythms, and lyrics. Outstanding.
From the moment they entered, I was impressed with the choir’s costuming. It was some of the most professional I have seen. The red and black gowns of the women and the intricate black and silver vests of the men created a splendid picture.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The first piece, “Shenandoah,” was one I had sung years ago, and it remains a personal favorite. It was executed superbly with a flawless, deliciously warm blend even in the semi-circle formation around the church. I could hear the rolling river. The second piece was a familiar lyric with new music to me. “Sure on This Shining Night,” began with the men (a great job). Cut-offs were crisp, diction was clear and dynamics expressive. You could see the enjoyment on their faces. The choir members were extremely responsive to their conductor, and I could see the result of, not only great conducting, but great instructing, as well.
Next “Water Night,” written in 1995, used exquisite poetry and gorgeous harmonies with sprinkles of dissonance wonderfully placed. I don't tend to be a lover of 20th century music, but I wanted to listen to this again and again. The fourth selection, “A Jubilant Song” included 3 soloists who did a great job! Then the women presented “Sing Creations Music On,” an exciting piece that alternated lyrical melody with driving energy and incredible accompaniment. Then we were treated to a piece written by a member of the choir, “Celebrate.” This composition was great fun with “joy” giving me “chills” every time it was repeated.
“I Will Sing Hallelujah” featured a resonant soloist with wonderful tone from top to bottom. And Heidi Van Regenmorter was again terrific on the piano. The excellent conducting on this piece was particularly evident with the ideally timed holding of chords and expressive dynamics, getting the most out of every note, every chord. I wish I could take lessons!
The first half ended with “Elijah Rock,” a song with wow-energy, can't-sit-still rhythm, the incredible bass section showing off again, and some rockin' sopranos to boot! The audience was buzzing during intermission telling of their favorite pieces and buying CDs so they can hear them again and again. I myself bought two.
One selection that went beyond the “chill factor” tonight was Samuel Barber's “Lamb of God.” From the first note, I knew that piece, but under a different name. I quickly checked the program notes to find that Barber's “Adagio for Strings” had been adapted by Barber himself. Originally written in 1936, “Adagio for Strings” was adapted for this choral work in 1967. This piece holds an extremely important place in my heart for it has played during times of intense feeling, despair and release in my life. Tonight the choir performed it with such eloquence that I was moved to tears for the entire length of the piece. Remembering hours later, the tears flow again.
The Barber was followed by music from four British and Scottish composers, in honor of Master Singers’ upcoming trip to Scotland. Cecilia McDowall's “O Orien” was a dissonant, but powerful piece. The beauty of “Data est mihi omnis potestas” included some amazing melismas and a powerful ending. “Loch Lomond,” was quite well done with different textures and soloists bringing new life to a traditional piece. “Lassie, Wad Ye Loe Me?” had an ethereal backdrop to a soloist whose pronunciation of the dialect was so wonderful that it made me believe she just traveled 5,000 miles and 100 years or more in time, just to be with us. I could picture the faeries as her backup singers.
SMS holds a scholarship competition for young singers each year, and we were blessed to get to meet a few of them and hear the first-place winner of the upper division. Michael Masters, Amanda Hoffman, Ashley Manges and Madalaine Matej joined us for the concert, with Madalaine singing a beautifully clear, “Laudate Dominum.” (Click here to open the information about these competition winners in a new window.)
Since the Scottish love to hear our spirituals, “Ride On, King Jesus,” “Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel” and “Soon I Will Be Done” are sure to capture their heart. The men were featured for “Ride On, King Jesus,” with a wonderful solo, great dynamics and lots of fun! “Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel” was quite jazzy with great accompaniment, super soloists, and fun syncopation. “Soon I Will Be Done” was quite appropriately placed second to the end. It had a blues feel with a double choir. The soloist was superb and the rhythm was terrific.
The concert ended with a little jab at England, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” using the voices as instruments — a fantastic rendition that should get plenty of chuckles both in the USA and beyond.
First United Methodist Church had, to my ear, faultless acoustics. The sound resonated throughout the church without echoing. It was another added bonus. And the basses, oh I haven't heard such incomparable basses in many years. It is one thing to sing low notes, but entirely another to resonate with such depth and warmth.
The Sacramento Master Singers is now on my “Go Hear” list. I don't want to miss their concerts ever again! Tremendous job! Enjoy Scotland!
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.