Monday, December 19, 2005

A Mountainside Yuletide Celebration!

"Go tell it on the mountain..." A truly "mountain top experience" is what I'd say about the annual Christmas Concert by the Mountainside Master Choral. On the right, you see the cropped cover of their printed program. It was such a joyously upbeat celebration of the "traditional" choral music in "modern arrangements"; Christmas Spirituals and popular carols. It was sung in Latin, German, French, Spanish, English and even alittle Russian, I think. The Garrison Auditorium on the campuses of the Claremont Colleges was a very intimate setting and therefore easy to hear and understand all those languages. As usual the choir had impeccable diction and pronunciation/enunciation. ie. one of their hallmarks over the years. Their goal, as announced by Bruce Roger, the founding and now retiring director, was to "put you all in the Christmas Spirit"! Mission accomplished!

This time, I got there in plenty of time and got a reserved seat in the rows for season ticket holders. Almost right away, my ol' singin' buddy (stood next to him) and former chorale president, Kirk Schaumann, spotted me and made a "bee-line" for me. After a warm greeting and firm hand shake, he asked me to rejoin the choir (the 2nd tenors, only 5 now) for the last two concerts directed by Bruce. Believe me, I, again was flattered, and almost persuaded. I mentioned my growing tendancy to "fall asleep while driving late at night" after rehearsals. He countered with, "You are invited to stay over night at our house." What a warm and hospitable thought and gesture (even without checking with his wife and growing family). My sister had also suggested that. Regretfully, I again, declined mentioning my attachment to "my own bed" as I age. I'd love to do the last concert with Bruce and his favorites, but we have booked a cruise of the Greek Isles during that rehearsal and performance time. I will miss that concert and this wonderfully talented group of artists.

The first half of the concert was acapella except for a couple pieces with percussion and oboe. The orchestra seats were set up and ready and Bruce had to bridge the gap created. He did it handsomely. His leadership/conducting is still, in my experience and view, the apex of evocative motivation. His meter and pace is very exact and although I couldn't see his facial expressions, (as I can Grant's) I know, from many years of concentrating on them, it is highly responsive and "with it".

"Resonet in Laudibus" arr. by Stroope was familiar to me and still a very precise way to start the concert historically. "Myn Lyking" arr. by Terry was originally from the 15th Century. It was so exquisite and different than the first with its "lilting quality". "Gaudete" arr. by Kay was different again. ie. very up tempo, almost syncopated with a great "tenor section" lead.

The Tree Traditional Carols were all right out of the "jeweled music box" ie. so clear and precise in harmonics and rhythm. I am continually amazed by Larry Thorp and his "solo". He must now be near 90 years old and still holding forth with that rich first tenor. He also takes on the responsibility of leading and caring for the tenor next to him on that high, top riser row who is blind! Amazing! I love that tenor section and notice the absences. My favorite carol of the three was, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" It was greatly and dynamically a departure from the "traditional" one. With it I noticed a trend or pattern which was verified with each section or "set"ie. the last song was mostly or at least ending at triple forte (fff) Good idea for mounting "a celebration" don't you think?

The next part of the program, was announced as a "taste" of Spanish and French. I agree. It was much more than a "touch" as the printed program said. "Fum, fum, fum and A La Nanita Nana" were both familier to me. I might've sung them at one time. They were mixed English and Spanish or French. It was hard to detect the language in the first one. The second is a beautiful lullaby. The third "Il Est Ne" was a very "French" carol and rather "round-like". Again, I loved the tenor section's ending..."Il les ne". Once again, the ending pattern, FFF on "Christmas Comes Anew" but not before many dynamic shifts and swells magnificently.

The last "set" before the "break" was three Christmas Spirituals. The last song was most like a "Moses Hogan" arr. "I believe This is Jesus"It was the best for me with its dynamics and "rock" beat. Bryan Malolot's tenor solo was so beautiful and sincere in "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" and I kind of liked the "bongos" on "Go Tell I on the Mountain". Dave Johnson is the perfect baritone soloist for this. He can still give you chills.

After intermission, with a small orchestra in place, we truly continued to "celebrate the yuletide" with more popular and even secular carols. I loved the pitsticcato(? plucking) accompaniment in the first song, "What Child is this?" and the "camel's gait" percussion. My favorite of the three was the second, "Love Came Down at Christmas" It was such a contrast to the others. Smooth and flowing, descending phrases and the light strings/voices made me visualize "falling snow". "Good Christian (Men) Friends Rejoice!" again ended FFF and those kettle drums made it happen! Also there was a successful attempt to mimic the cymbals with "instrumental voices". Unique!

The next to last section: "Popular Christmas Songs" was nostalgic, heart-warming and even humorous, yes, funny! "The Sleigh" was, for me, a fast, spritely ride over the Russia! Excellent. Mel Torme's "chestnut" was just that, "A Christmas Song" of warm memories. The next two, to me, featured the incomparable talent of "Pro" Mojica, pianist par excellance! The "Minute Waltz" ala Christmas was just packed with almost too many words. It moved! It even had modern references ie. "on line". "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was just the opposite... and it actually got me "misty" (welled-up eyeballs) It was a "show case" of the keyboard virtuosity and "ad libbing" of Pro. So smooth, with staggered breathing. The ending, Wow! Then finally, "Jingle Bells" "like you've never heard it before" Bruce. This, I think, was the first, successful attempt at a "comic solo" by "granny"...even Bruce hammed it up. It reminded me of that infamous soprano from Claremont a few years back... only she was slightly off pitch. Diane Whitham wasn't. She had everyone laughing. This was the "jazzy-ist" You can tell that this is one of Bruce's fortes. When I sang with the group, it was a running joke, "don't even try to do anything, up beat, jazzy or syncopate Bruce" we can't even "feel" it, let alone perform it. Mission accomplished, Bruce. Your current group, many who have been there since the start, have "gotten rhythm". Thanks!

Then, to top it all off, a beautiful "Garland" of six traditional carols arr. by Susa. I have also done this and enjoyed its variety. My favorite, of course, "We Three Kings" and the tenors. It was the best way to bring it all together with the orchestra, kettle drums, and FFF. We then we had to do the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah"...standing! It is tradition. It was then I realized that I hadn't sung like that for a long time. When was tenor this high? Was it always this fast? Maybe I'll try bass, my first love. Oh, what a wonderful celebration! It was touching when Bruce made that last announcement and gripped his heart. He was realizing that this was his last Christmas Performance with "his family". You will be missed Bruce...God's speed to all your next challenges. Bob


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