The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento Valley Chorus
'Tis the Season To Be Jolly - December 9, 2017
by Diane Boul
What do you think of when you think of a choir or a chorus? Church choirs? Amateur community choirs? Maybe children’s choirs or one of the large professional choirs? These are all groups of people that come together to sing and, often, to entertain. They come in all types: all men, all women, mixed groups, professional-level, purely amateur, some better than others.
Then there’s the Sacramento Valley Chorus, directed by Dede Nibler. They are pure theater! They sing, dance, and act, all with professionalism, sophistication, and with so much enthusiasm and fun. Sacramento Valley Chorus (SVC) is an award-winning, high-energy chorus of women dedicated to musical excellence in the performance of four-part a cappella harmony in the barbershop style. In 2017 they represented Region 12 at the Sweet Adelines International competition in Las Vegas, placing 14th. That’s 14th in the world of Sweet Adeline choruses!
One of the four categories on which SAI competitors are judged is expression: this includes matched open vowels, diction, and execution of interpretive plan, use of barbershop style and vocal drama, and emotional communication. If more choruses would adhere to these qualities in their singing, there’d be much larger audiences listening to much better choruses.
Most choruses don’t have a distinctive sound that identifies them, but SVC does. It’s the barbershop sound that is revered by many and appreciated by so many more. Some folks just like that distinctive sound, while others delight in the tight harmonies that make this music difficult to sing. All barbershop groups (men and women) sing in four parts: tenor, lead, baritone, and bass, from highest voice to lowest, but these do not correspond well to classical voice parts. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead.
According to the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), "Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies.” May sound simple, but if you have time, read what else the BHS and others say about the complexities of the barbershop tone and chords. The history of how barbershop evolved is really interesting and sounds very scientific and complicated. What you hear is no accident!
The elements of the barbershop style and the names of the voice parts are the same for both men and women, but the ranges in each part are different, of course. The ideal balance in a chorus is about 40% bass, 30% lead, 20% baritone and 10% tenor singers. Fortunately, there are many arrangers with the skills to include the barbershop chord structure in their arrangements. Today's barbershop quartets and choruses sing a variety of music from all eras — show tunes, pop, and even rock music have been arranged for choruses and quartets, making them more attractive to younger singers. I was disappointed that no mention was made in the program of these talented arrangers.
The defining characteristic of the barbershop style is the ringing chord, one in which certain overtones of the four voices reinforce each other, sometimes so strongly that the overtone is perceived by the listener as a distinct tone, even though none of the voices are perceived as singing that tone. Wrap your head around that idea!! Barbershop music is always a cappella, because listening to anything but the other three voices interferes with a performer's ability to tune with the precision required.
“Tis the Season to Be Jolly,” Sacramento Valley Chorus’s concert at the Oak Hill Church in Folsom on this day, mixed the finals package from their competition in Las Vegas with an impressive array of Christmas songs, plus three costume changes along the way. Oak Hill Church was perfect for this group, because they have a huge following. This spacious hall accommodated all of them, and it was almost full. There wasn’t a problem acoustically, because the singers were heavily miked with professional equipment, so the sound was full and even. I noticed how dressed up members of the audience were. This was a nice change from the casual attire I see at most concerts — definitely not a jeans affair.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
Emcee Gwen Marks asked the audience to imagine the “Road to OzVegas,” another tale of Oz, which was a parody on the Oz plays, including The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, and Wicked. The Oz characters were well-represented, including Dorothy (director Dede Nibler); the Tin Man; the Lion; the Munchkins; the Wicked Witch of the West; Glinda, the Good Witch of the South (or the North if you go back to the original movie), etc.
This was a really creative skit about auditioning a new baritone for the competitive quartet of witches. Beginning with “Pure Imagination,” the skit progressed to “Move on Down the Road” as the auditions went on. This actually made sense if you were there, and it was hilarious how they continued to weave the Oz songs into their parody, including the revivalist, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News”; “Popular,” Glinda’s teaching moment for the quartet; and the finale, “Brand New Day.” Then the frenetic characters, along with the crazy, costumed, backup chorus, left the stage. This could have been the end of the show, and we would all have gone home happy; but no, SVC was just getting started!
The next introduction was to guest artists, Artistic License, a quartet from the barbershop chorus, Voices of California (another Sacramento group worth hearing). Their “Silver Bells” rang out in this hall: just beautiful. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” brought us beautiful harmonies with broad vocal ranges. This piece was arranged by Deke Sharon, heralded as "The Father of Contemporary A Cappella."
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was arranged by bass, Jason Dyer, and featured him. In this number, I was particularly impressed by the way they all seemed to breathe together. It was obvious that they were listening to each other and adjusting as necessary to keep the voices in balance. “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” written in a jazzy, rock rhythm with beatboxing accompaniment was one of my favorites. I never realized barbershop singing could be so versatile.
Jason then talked about Joseph being somewhat forgotten in the Christmas story. So, from Joseph’s point of view, they sang “Joseph’s Lullaby,” written by Christian rock band, MercyMe, and featuring baritone, Gabe Caretto. This was a touching lullaby, so smooth and lilting and impeccably sung. This ought to be in the repertoire of more choruses. Completing their set, Artistic License sang a medley of Santa Clause-themed songs. I really didn’t care for the barbershop arrangement of this piece.
Emcee Gwen then told us that SVC had a quartet qualified to represent Region 12 (Northern California) in the International Competition for quartets. Called Fresco, Sandy, Megan, Margaret and Marriann entertained us with the upbeat, “Come On, Get Happy,” a very expressive “Chances Are,” and a scatty number, “Nobody But Me.”
Then the two quartets, Artistic License and Fresco, sang as a double quartet. Their vocal blend was smooth, the harmonies very tight. This was interesting and perhaps a little unconventional, since barbershop choruses/quartets are not usually mixed, but it worked for me.
The entire chorus returned to show us why they were 14th in the world at the 2017 Sweet Adelines International Competition, singing “Over the Rainbow” and “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms,” both with choreography. (See YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4iAnQe2m64, for the live performance, complete with cartwheels.)
Intermission was an event with lots of items for sale, including gifts and snack food and drinks.
The chorus returned with “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and then the audience got a chance to sing a Christmas round with the chorus, along with a few other well-known carols. It was a rousing affair, because there were hundreds of people in the audience. I think they must all have been singing.
I regret to say that I had to miss the rest of the concert, but at 5:00 p.m., this concert (which started at 3:00 pm) was only a little more than half over. I had another engagement, so I had to leave. I missed the light and funny Christmas songs I’ve heard before, but I feel confident that they were done to the standards demanded by this group of women. I did want to hear the Whatever 4 quartet, another Region 12 quartet (you can hear them at http://www.whatever4.net/Christmas_Songs.html) and the SVC small ensemble, Extension Chords. I also missed one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Mary Did You Know?” Maybe it’ll turn up on YouTube, sung in the inimitable style of the Sacramento Valley Chorus!