Dallas — Professionalism, musicality, preparedness. The fourth and fifth graders of the Mesquite Children’s Chorus were terrific. How smart of The Women’s Chorus of Dallas (TWCD) to include these young singers on this holiday concert. Bundled with The Metropolitan Winds, these three ensembles swelled the The Dallas City Performance Hall on Saturday, Dec. 12, with sounds of festival, joy, and peace.
As a prelude to the concert, the Rangel Girls Academy, directed by Arkette Baptiste, filled the lobby with songs of the holiday season. They had been invited to perform last year and the audience response was so strong that TWCD invited them back this year. They garnered the attention of the lobby patrons, which is no small feat, especially during season festivities.
TWCD director Melinda Imthurn is very adept at material selection. She adroitly matches the literature with the voices of this eclectic ensemble. It is a skill desired but not mastered by all choral conductors. The result is a group of vocalists that are clearly happy and excited about what they are singing. Their exuberance was transcendent.
Imthurn opened the program with a chant from 1582 (the Renaissance), Gaudete (Gow-deh-te), which translates as “Rejoice” in Latin. It is the first word of the Introit at Mass, the third Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time during which the faithful are called to rejoice and celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love. Imthurn framed the evening as one in which everyone regardless of belief systems, could agree on one thing—peace. That statement was greeted with robust applause. Leading in with the Gaudete was a good choice.
TWCD has a chamber group, Vivacious, directed by Will Varner. They performed “Counting Down to Christmas” from the Tony-nominated musical A Christmas Story, “Text Me Merry Christmas,” and “Winter Song.” “Text Me Merry Christmas,” written by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum, was premiered at RyanSeacrest.com by professional a cappella group Straight No Chaser and singer/actress Kristin Bell. It is a humorous number that quickly became widely popular because of its clever embrace of social media. This rendition was arranged by Roger Emerson. Vivacious borrows a little from cabaret and a little from musical theater in performance style. They are a fun group with a pleasant blend.
The centerpiece for this concert was the world premiere of Jocelyn Hagen’s How To Survive Winter. But for serendipity it might never have happened. Imthurn was thumbing through music in search of new literature for the chorus when she noticed a manuscript in a pile that she had previously overlooked. Buried in the stack was the music of Jocelyn Hagen. After Imthurn discovered and, as she describes it “fell in love with” the music, she contacted the composer and learned that Hagen was desirous of creating an original piece for a women’s chorus with string quartet. After some discussions, Imthurn and Hagen met in Dallas and a new collaboration was born.
How to Survive Winter is a four-song cycle. A song cycle is a storytelling vehicle—a collection or group of songs intended for performance sequentially as one piece. All of the songs are usually written by the same composer with text from one poet, who is in this case Julia Klatt Singer. Hagen was in the audience Saturday evening. She could hardly contain her exuberance following the chorus’ performance of her music, and was the first to leap to her feet in applause. This song cycle was unquestionably the highlight of first half of the concert program. It was a major accomplishment for all involved including Allegro Strings musicians Carol Harlos, Kathleen Crabtree, Jane Escueta and Ellen Lovelace.
The cycle songs: “Let the Leaves Fall,” “Wrap Your Body in Darkness,” “Bury Me in White” and “Swallow the Sun.” Hagen weaves melodic lines out of present and ancient intervallic relationships and harmonic progressions. Her pieces prove that dissonances need not be metallic; they can say “listen to me” without jarring. “Swallow the Sun” made this reviewer inhale more deeply, needing more to fill up the sonic well. TWCD sang with the bravado that comes from being a part of something that was created with you in mind.
The second half of the program featured The Metropolitan Winds conducted by Randol Bass, with the TWCD joining them later in the half. The Metropolitan Winds dominated the second half. They began with Miracle on 34th Street, The Night Before Christmas (narrated by Barry Samsula), and Bellringer’s Holiday. Of those three, The Night Before Christmas, an original composition by Bass, was the showstopper. Their performance was as exciting to watch as it was to hear. The percussionists were the primary scene-stealers, as usual. It is always fun watching them move about, switching instruments, especially with holiday music which incorporates the sleigh bells, orchestral chimes, and glockenspiel among others.
The other visual interest was the conductor. Bass is a master and watching him was like taking a class in conducting. He is neat, commanding, and expressive. Under his baton with Gloria, an astonishing joint effort by TWCD and Metropolitan Winds, it was as if we were listening to a different chorus. Gloria is also an original composition by Bass. This was the first collaborative concert for the holidays with The Metropolitan Winds and TWCD. Hopefully it will not be the last.
For Peace, Peace the TWCD encircled the audience, leaving the wind ensemble onstage. For the final number, Let There be Peace, the Mesquite Children’s Chorus returned to join TWCD and the wind ensemble. The children’s chorus is under the guidance of Head Directors Christy Forkner and Caitlin White, Assistant Director Julie McKown, and Managing Directors Miranda Hill and Crystal Clemons. They were accompanied by Karen Porter.
From Gaudete, “It is now the time of grace that we have desired; Let us sing songs of joy.”