The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus lights up the holiday season with their 28th annual seasonal show, Light Your World.
SGMC delivered a beautiful performance on Friday night at the First Methodist Church in Midtown. There was a little something for everyone, from solemn sacred music sung in Latin to lighthearted musical skits and an audience singalong.
The chorus has grown to include some 60 voices, and their sound is richer and more rounded for the expansion. Whether showcasing their trademark lyrical harmonies in songs like “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and “Silent Night”, or camping it up on the premiere of Eric Lane Barnes’ “Social Network Christmas”, the men sing with precision and style.
The most moving piece was a beautiful blending of “The First Noel” and the iconic Pachelbel’s Canon. For this lovely and haunting work, the chorus was accompanied by the St. John’s Handbell Choir. The blend of rich voices in delicate harmony with the ethereal sound of the bells was breathtaking.
This concert introduced SGMC’s new small group ensemble, Boy Howdy, made up of ten versatile singers including the delightful Paul Jones, former artistic director who has reclaimed his place on the risers and retained his infectious enthusiasm and energy.
Boy Howdy was featured in several numbers, including the hilarious “Insubordinate Clause”, in which guest soloist Lauren Parrot as Mrs. Clause informed her elves that she’d be “heading south on Christmas Day!” The ensemble also backed soloist Patrick Van in the comic “PC Christmas”.
As always, the concert incorporated imaginative costuming and choreography. The beautiful lighting, designed by Arteen Kharrat, provided a lush, dramatic complement to Philip Rice’s elegant stage setting.
SGMC’s new director is Steven Johnson, an accomplished pianist and choral conductor well known in Sacramento for his work as music director for St. John’s Lutheran Church. He brings a new level of choral musicianship to the SGMC, and has been inspired by his connection with this group of singers.
Johnson says that accepting the position of Artistic Director with SGMC was both “The worst business decision, and the best spiritual and musical decision I’ve ever made.”
He spoke about the experience of accompanying the SGMC to the 2012 GALA Choruses Festival in Denver. There, some 6000+ singers from gay and lesbian choruses from around the world met and shared songs and experiences, and sang together in a massive Festival Chorus.“The GALA event changed my life,” Johnson said. “There is a sort of divine spirit about this organization. These musicians are breaking boundaries, singing as a way of getting in touch with our shared humanity, beyond any affiliation with nation or religion.”
With a solid background in church music for many years, Johnson is thrilled to be able to expand and explore a new and rich smorgasboard of musical styles and expressions. He foresees further growth for the SGMC community in a variety of ways: in numbers, musically, and spiritually.
Principal accompanist Kay Hight shimmered at the grand piano, and was occasionally joined by Johnson for a four-hand accompaniment, as in “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. Other musicians included two organists, three percussionist, a violin, a bass, and Bill Damian on flute; his duet with Johnson on James Galway’ arrangement of a Fantasy on ‘I Saw Three Ships’ was beautifully played.
The St. John’s Handbell Choir was joined by three wonderful percussionists as they performed a complicated medley of traditional Christmas music, “Noel Francais”. Their precision and range of expression was surprising and delightful as the performers not only rang their bells but also produced a variety of other sounds by striking the bells with padded mallets or by dampening the sound by striking the bell against the padded table.
Handbell players are quiet but intense and serious musicians; the choir is made up of several people who have been playing in church handbell choirs for anywhere from a few months to 20 years or more. There are two married couples in this choir, and a lovely mother and daughter (Marion and Sarah Zamzow) who enjoy playing together. In March, Sarah’s first child will be born; Marion joked that the baby is already “in training” as a possible third-generation handbell player.
Although handbells have been in use in this country since the early part of the 20th century, and in England since the late 17th century, their use has largely been limited to churches and sacred music. However, rumor has it that Sacramento audiences may soon hear a Lady Gaga song performed by this handbell choir.
The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus has proven yet again that they are an area treasure. Their holiday concert is not to be missed.
Tickets are still available for the performances on Saturday, December 1 at 8 pm and on Sunday, December 2 at 4 pm. Visit SGMC at http://www.sacgaymenschorus.org/index.php for tickets or information.