Master Singers’ Season Opener is a Gem
The American River College Theater was sold out Friday evening as the Sacramento Master Singers presented a wonderful ensemble concert to begin their 26th season.
“From Sand to Pearls: A Choral Tribute to Perla Warren” honored the longtime music instructor with an ambitious program involving four choral groups, several supporting instrumentalists and a solo jazz pianist.
Many of the musicians were former students of Warren and credited her with the transformation of young voices into accomplished musicians.
Dr. Ralph Hughes, artistic director of the Master Singers and a colleague of Warren, is also the director of the 26-voice American River College Chamber Orchestra. He led his young singers through a quartet of challenging pieces, singing in Italian, Latin, Cuban Spanish and the non-verbal language of Hutcheson’s “Lament for a Lost Child,” performed in eerie darkness with only tiny blue lights held beneath the chins of the singers.
This performance was testimony to the quality of the music program at ARC, and it seems certain that many of these talented students will go on to develop the depth and maturity evident in the alumni singers who followed.
1990-92 alumnus Jim Martinez is a classical and jazz pianist with an impressive résumé. He honored his former teacher with a sparkling medley of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon classic “There Will Never Be Another You.”
Another alumnus of Warren’s classes is Julie Adams, who directs the choir she founded in 2000, Reconciliation Singers Voices for Peace. RSVP is a talented group of slightly older singers who donate their time and talents to provide both beautiful music and financial contributions to local charitable organizations.
RSVP began their set with a whimsical, upbeat and complicated tongue-twister involving a poet and bananas, set in very difficult mixed meters. Their lovely rendition of the traditional “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” featured solos by tenor David Saul Lee and alto Gaw Vang.
Moodswing is a jazz quartet from the Bay Area, and Julie Ford and husband Paul Ford were both shaped and trained by Warren. Their sound is very close, tight harmony in a classic jazz idiom. Opening with Al Jarreau’s “Mornin’” and ending with the fabulous “Bernie’s Tune” from the 1950s, they delivered a clear and respectful reading of the genre. Yet it was the powerful and haunting “Calling You” from the film “Bagdad Café” which touched the audience with the strength of this quartet’s connection to their ARC roots.
The Sacramento Master Singers began their set with one of the most sprightly of Bach’s motets, “Der Geist hilft unser Achwachheit auf,” featuring a double chorus in a light and uplifting mosaic of voices.
In an early nod to the Christmas season, the women sang a delightful hymn of praise and rejoicing, “Gaudete!” The men followed with a beautiful arrangement of “The First Noel” and concluded their set with the charming and playful “Yo le canto todo el dia” including some complex hand-clapped rhythms.
As a finale, all the singers formed a mass chorus to present three lovely pieces, including one written by Paul Winter and Paul Halley based on themes heard in the eerie, plaintive recorded cries of a tundra wolf, and then echoed by the choir and soprano saxophonist Jason Galbraith. It was a haunting and unusual Kyrie from a Mass celebrating the whole Earth as a sacred place.
Warren’s choral groups, the American River College Chamber Singers and the American River College Jazz Choir, earned many honors and awards over the 30 years of her tenure as conductor. They performed in several countries and received numerous awards.
In her closing remarks, Warren beseeched the audience to keep music alive, in schools, workplaces and the world at large, especially in the hearts, hands and voices of all people. Her legacy is a dedicated family of musicians who will see that her vision is carried out.