William Adams, DMA

Art celebrates the human experience. Sometimes this means the solemnity of a requiem, sometimes this means the intricacies of human relationships, and sometimes it really is just about having a little fun. The Voices Summer Chorus presented “Not Just For Kids” on Friday, July 14, at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, to an audience full of kids of all ages — including those with a substantial amount of silver in their hair!

The Summer Chorus is a project that brings in singers that are not part of the Voices season to experience the joy of singing in a larger choir. Of the 62 singers participating, 20 were “summer-only.” Even some of the soloists were “summer-only” singers. They rehearsed for only six weeks. Programs like this do wonders to demystify choirs for both the participants and the audience. 

One would expect the selections to be overly simple, exceedingly accessible arrangements with no surprises or twists that would be easy to learn in a short period of time. One would be mistaken. The very first selection was the theme to Sesame Street arranged for Singers Unlimited by Gene Puerling! The choir not only handled the difficult chords well, they had a decent swing! Being able to sing with a solid understanding of swing is something a lot of ensembles that have been together longer than six weeks struggle with so congratulations are definitely in order.

You could tell in watching Stephen Futrell’s conducting that he was being a bit of a technician. While there were moments where he could be more expressive and free in his conducting, most of the evening was spent keeping an inexperienced ensemble together on difficult pieces. It was obvious that the choir was quite well prepared on every level. They sang with good dynamic contrast, wonderful nuance of timbre as they moved from genre to genre, and all of the fundamentals we look for in tuning and rhythmic precision from good choirs. They navigated sometimes difficult repertoire with ease. Of particular delight was seeing so many animated, engaged faces expressing not just their joy at singing this great music but also connecting with the audience to tell us these familiar stories in sometimes new, unexpected ways.

Mac Huff’s “Disney Spectacular” treated us to twenty (yes, 20) songs from the “golden age” of Disney. It was a delightful romp down Memory Lane through Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Pinocchio, and many others. Vicki Erwin was wonderfully animated and playful in her solo on “How d’ye do…” Sarah Marks brought a warm, uncomplicated tone to “Chim chim cher-ee.” Sally Molyneux evoked a bit of impish glee in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (This reviewer gets points for spelling that correctly). Finally, Becca McDaniel sang with a light, lyrical tone reminiscent of Disney princesses of yore on “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

Mayla Gilliam brought a wistful tone with excellent intonation over the difficult, angular lines of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka. The choir made light work of a challenging yet beautiful setting by Mark Hayes. The medley from Schoolhouse Rock! suffered a bit in the acoustic at UUMC. The choir was singing cleanly, but the piece is quite wordy and the rhythm of the text is quick and unforgiving. The diction wasn’t quite clean enough to always pierce the reverb but what we occasionally lacked in clarity we made up for in the lightness of re-learning our conjunctions and how bills became laws.

A highlight of the program was the imaginative arrangement of “My Favorite Things” by Paris Rutherford. Rather than the traditional waltz treatment, Rutherford chose to give the song a bit of a funk treatment with some imaginative re-harmonizations and some rather tricky syncopations which the choir handled admirably. Solana Wild exhibited an excellent command of the style with a clean tone well-suited for pop music.

The final three selections consisted of medleys from Shrek: The Musical, more modern Disney selections from Mac Huff in the “Disney Dazzle,” and the beautiful and poignant “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt. Eric Dashman, filling in at the last minute for an ailing Adam Dengler, sang with a big, fun character voice for his solo in Shrek. Rachel Oloyede showed a nice sense of Ariel’s melancholy in “Part of Your World,” and Emma Yount’s clear, bright voice was perfectly suited for John Leavitt’s lovely setting of Stephen Schwartz’ anthem.

Voices checked off every box on this concert. The program was entertaining and surprising, and very well paced. They gave Triangle audiences a chance to get out and hear some quality choral music during the “off-season.” Most importantly, they gave at least twenty people a chance to enjoy what it’s like to sing in one of the better choirs in the area. No matter where they are on their musical journey, this is something to be relished. Hopefully, it also spoke to the audience who might feel intimidated by such a project to get out and give it a try themselves.