Dallas — The final concert of Turtle Creek Chorale’s 37th season was a celebration of comfort in community and two lumps of sugar. The ensemble achieved a level of relevance, ambition, and heart rarely reached by professional choirs.
A handful of songs stuck to the theme, In Your Dreams like “Mr. Sandman” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” But an admission of divergence away from that programming was made by Artistic Director Sean Baugh. He felt compelled to address shocking events in the past year by leading singing about the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, the Dallas Police shooting on July 7, 2016, “…then November happened.” Topics swerved from terrorism to Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ rights special to this family of singers, and to substance abuse. A quote from Leonard Bernstein came to mind, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Many earnest aphorisms peppered the concert like, “speak to truth…rise up…live with purpose” and, “what we need is here.” A strong commissioned work titled “Be at My Side” by Gerald Gurss was passionately sung with solo violin accompaniment.
The topic of methamphetamine addiction in a choir concert can be shocking even to those accustomed to the TCC’s tradition of iconoclasty. And not shocking to those who understand the choir’s DNA of embracing identity. Every harmony proclaimed this is who we are.
There is an expectation of fun with this chorale. And these gentlemen served it up with a number from the irreverent puppet musical Avenue Q, in the song “For Now.” Including a recently amended line of encouragement, “Donald Trump is only for now.”
After intermission it was unclear where the hell we were going next.
Managing 160 voices around 20 songs of varying dress, lights, heights, and accompaniment was a feat in production value alone. A special shout out is due to the technical designers, choreographers, video directors and unsung hero, the “Choral Logistics Coordinator.” Press releases promised, “…a new concept in choral theatre.” Variations on the standard choral presentation of statuesque formation are almost always welcome. Attempts at added visuals at times took the shape of dancers, video projections, and elaborative gestures from the singers themselves dubiously called “choralography” but always impeccably tasteful.
Smaller ensembles broke out for featured pieces. The Camerta’s Pentatonix arrangement of John Lennon’s “Imagine” tied all the disparate elements of the concert together. And the Chamber Chorus’s offering of Ethan Sperry’s “Ute Sundance” was particularly polished.
Were there were scattered moments of imperfection in consistency, timing, balance, diction, and intonation? Yes, but this fraternity stands separate from the association that depth of presence only comes from high repertoire. And a bit of a breathy tone does not dissipate their resolve. They sing to a different question more central to the humanity of great music, “Does it reach you?”
Though some songs and sounds were casual, their overall message of pride and solidarity wrapped the evening in arms of warm support.