William Adams, DMA
It is a very powerful thing, making music. Both the musician and the listener are transported, taken on a journey that can be whimsical or intensely emotional. Music invites us to explore deeper states of mind, deeper levels of consciousness, deeper emotional states. Music helps us cope, it helps us heal. Veterans Day is a complicated holiday for many people. We are intensely grateful to the selfless women and men who serve our country and yet we are devastated by the horrors countless soldiers have had to endure, and are still enduring, through their service. We all long for a day when their service might not be needed, but that day is not today. On Veterans Day we embrace those who have served and we do whatever we can to help them in their daily struggles.
In a moving, spiritual concert, SONAM (Singers Of New and Ancient Music) focused their talents on uplifting an organization which supports veterans in a unique way. The concert was a benefit for Vets to Vets United, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 which rescues dogs and pairs them with veterans with disabilities for an enhanced quality of life (for both!). Director Allan Friedman said the concert was “really four different ideas rolled up into one.” The ten selections dealt with All Saints, with loss, with hope for redemption, and with honoring the fallen. It was an eclectic mix of music. Most of the selections were contemporary with two exceptions: “Selig sind die Toten” by Henrich Schütz and “When David Heard” by Thomas Tomkins.
They featured multiple soloists from within the ensemble to great effect. In Ešenvalds’ beautiful “O Salutaris Hostias,” the acoustics of the intimate Pilgrim United Church were put to excellent use with soloists Ali Carnes and Kayla Richardson-Piché singing from the balcony. Their tone was light, lyrical, almost ethereal and complimented one another perfectly. Chase Bannister was featured on Franco Prinsloo’s “Agnus Dei” from the Missa Brevis San Marco. He sang very delicately, his clear, light tenor bringing a simple elegance to his solo. Adrienne Jernigan had a delightfully bluesy, soulful sound on Josephine Poelinitz’ arrangement of “City Called Heaven.”
In a nod to the talent level of the ensemble, there are several conductors who are among the ranks of singers in SONAM. Two of these conductors were featured in the program. Jada Poteat’s treatment of Casals’ “O Vos Omnes” was dignified and stately. Her almost understated gestures were in complete control, quite concise and clear, but also equally expressive. Katie Battle’s conducting on City Called Heaven was reserved when necessary but much broader and more energetic when called for. She had an excellent feel for and command of the gospel blues and brought a big, brassy sound out of the ensemble. Somewhat in contrast, Allan Friedman’s conducting is almost always energetic, with big sweeping gestures. There is an unmistakable joy and passion in his conducting and SONAM responded with a broad palette of sounds moving easily between various styles, showing equal affinity to late Renaissance, contemporary extended harmonies, or a bluesy gospel swing. SONAM sings with exquisite patience and care. Nothing is ever rushed; everything feels completely under control at all times.
Their intonation is excellent and their ensemble sound is almost always seamless; only occasionally did a voice slip through. While there were occasional timing issues that could be attributed to arranging themselves across the altar of a small church, they were never enough to detract from the piece and they were corrected and controlled smoothly. What all of this means is that this is an incredibly proficient ensemble singing at an extremely high level of professionalism. Their seemingly easy command of difficult repertoire is to be commended. Their breadth of expression is remarkable with a broad dynamic range, bright and dark timbres, and alternating between vibrato or straight tone singing. Each piece was brought to life with very text centered singing – the lyric always intentional and well conceived.
A wonderful concert by an excellent ensemble and all for an amazing cause!