Arvada Chorale’s Home for the Holidays: A Warm Evening of Seasonal Music
By Ruth L. Carver
The Arvada Chorale was joined by the Rocky Mountain Ringers and treble voice group Safonia in the cheery and romantic “Home for the Holidays” program on December 13 and 14, 2013 (heard on December 13). Performing at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada, the groups filled the space with a warm and inviting spirit in this varied program of Christmas classics.
A community chorus with a long history, the Arvada Chorale shared a warm and rich sound under Interim Artistic Director Marla Wasson. Wasson’s energetic conducting had an infectious character, and the packed house responded with delight throughout the evening. The Chorale began the program by processing in singing segments of hymns, and opened the concert with an arrangement of Carol of the Bells joined by the Rocky Mountain Ringers. It was a welcome change of pace to hear this sometimes driven and sparse carol with actual bell accompaniment; the Ringers gave this piece a special textural richness and the well-coordinated ensemble sound between the groups started this program off with flare. Interspersed throughout the program were personal stories about holiday life lessons from Chorale members. This personal touch infused the concert with a homey sense of welcome and nostalgia so appropriate for the season and for this program.
Throughout the evening, the Chorale singers sang with a very full sound, and the women’s sections in particular filled the space with a warm timbre. One of the best moments of the night came from flutist Elizabeth Hicks-Kimmey who joined the singers for an arrangement of What Child is This. Her birdsong-like melody and embellishments added a plaintive and evocative air to the carol, contrasting with the plummy sound of the choir. The sound was less focused on difficult arrangements like John Rutter’s Deck the Hall, where the fast-paced delivery and quick exchanges between vocal sections made for some unclear pitches, but the choir still maintained their sense of fun and passion.
The Rocky Mountain Ringers offered a set of pieces including a funky, rhythmic take on the normally square Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, the haunting ‘Twas in the Moon at Winter Time, and the show-stopping Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter. The Ringers are an elite ensemble under the direction of Jeffrey J. Harms. Their many jazzed-up and mixed-meter pieces were fun to watch and hear, but it was in the more subtle arrangements like ‘Twas in the Moon at Winter Time that the beauty of the bells truly shone. This traditional Canadian carol, arranged by William E. Gross, made lovely use of the pointillist quality of the high pitched hand bells, and the dreamy, resonant sound of the large bells and handchimes. The Ringers successfully evoked a magical winter night in this ethereal carol. A set in the second half of the program included a second, bells only version of Carol of the Bells, as well as Greensleeves, and the Marche from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. The Marche utilized the ‘martellato’ technique, where players smack the bell against the padded table, producing a percussive yet pitched sound. Tchaikovsky’s delicate orchestration was not really reproduced by this, but again, the Ringers worked with an intensity and strength that made watching them feel a little like a synchronized swimming routine: behind the beautiful sounds produced, a lot of coordinated, impressive technique is involved.
The Arvada Chorale added a fun set of songs including the romantic Merry Christmas Darling which closed with calm, tender phrasing. The acoustics of the church made the use of handheld microphones necessary for the vocal soloists, and the contrast between the warm acoustic vocal sound of the Chorale and the tinny amplified sound of the soloists was jarring. It was difficult to appreciate the sound of their individual voices on solos in Merry Christmas Darling and The Christmas Song, and later on in O Holy Night. Other offerings like Rockin’ Jerusalem and I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (made famous as a jingle in a 1971 Coca-Cola commercial) brought home the Chorale’s friendly, community-oriented approach and offered the chance for the chorus to shine in big, bold arrangements.
The women’s choir Safonia (also directed by Wasson) joined the program for a brief set and really stole the show in terms of high-quality vocalism and blend. They began with an antiphonal (placed in different locations within the church) version of Eleanor Daley’s arrangement of Ubi caritas, Where There is Love, and after the singers out in the house processed toward the stage, the balanced unison blend broke into a final, stunning polyphonic “amen.” An arrangement of 20th-century German composer Franz Biebl’s gorgeous Ave Maria followed, and, in this work, Safonia produced a sound greater than their modest numbers and colored each phrase beautifully. Safonia joined the Ringers and the Chorale in a final set, and the program ended with a bombastic and joyful Adeste Fideles. The Arvada Chorale sang White Christmas as an encore, and this sentimental song was a fitting close to this homespun and warm evening of Christmas music.