Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents I Hear America Singing: The Music of André Thomas and Greg Gilpin in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents I Hear America Singing: The Music of André Thomas and Greg Gilpin in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents I Hear America Singing: The Music of André Thomas and Greg Gilpin
West Orange High School Concert Choir (FL)
Jeffery Redding, Director
Greg Gilpin, Composer/Conductor; George Hemcher, Piano
André Thomas, Composer/Conductor; Kirsten Kemp, Piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium, New York, NY
March 19, 2017

 

Logistics! I suppose that sounds like a parcel delivery service, but what other word can there be for Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) massed-choir events? It takes a very special presenter to handle 485 choristers from twelve participating choirs nationwide (and international), NOT counting the opening choral group, which was separate. They are meticulously prepared by their individual conductors, then they travel to New York, in this case right after the recent blizzard, to work with the DCINY conductor(s). Lucky for audiences, DCINY does not disappoint, upholding a high level at all times.

The evening began with the West Orange High School Concert Choir, a Florida group. They seem to have been added after this concert was planned, for there were no program notes or credits for the excellent pianist. This is a shame, for this group really deserves an entire concert to itself. They were superbly sensitive, sang beautifully at soft dynamic levels, had clear diction, performed from memory, and the women were in floor-length black skirts and the men in white tie and tails (not often seen, but oh, so elegant). I had to keep reminding myself that this is a high school group. They exuded excitement with the opening Gloria Fanfare by Jeffery Ames. The standout was a gorgeous reading of Stephen Paulus’ The Road Home (with a lovely uncredited soprano solo): “With the love in your heart as the only song/There is no such beauty as where you belong.” In Kim André Arnesen’s Flight Song, the sight of joined hands in the entire ensemble was inspiring: “All we are we have found in song.”

There followed the Greg Gilpin section of the program, utilizing about half of the 485, including some very dear, very small grade schoolers, on up to what I presume were high schoolers, in the choir. They too sang everything from memory. Gilpin favors lots of antiphonal (“call and response”) trading off between sections, which is a lovely way to get young musicians to listen to each other. His music, if not blazingly original, is always well-crafted, and perfectly suited to developing esprit de corps and good choral singing. He also incorporates multi-cultural material with great taste, good exposure for young singers, including clapping and other rhythmic movement. The sight of the brightly colored scarves waving in the song about Hindi taffeta was beautiful. A small percussion section, a solo flute, and the violin concertmaster of the DCINY orchestra assisted.

After intermission, André Thomas took his half of the singers, a decidedly more mature choir, through a selection of his persuasive spiritual arrangements, original works, and even two sections (Gloria and Credo) from his Gospel Mass (sung in English, a work-in-progress, according to the program notes). By any measure, there just isn’t enough diversity on the usual concert stage, so it was good to hear this dedicated man, so engaging in his verbal remarks to the audience, and his music. The spiritual Keep Your Lamps was a stunning moment. In other works, this choir sang with the full DCINY orchestra, which sounded great but threatened to overbalance the large choir, and also reduced intelligibility of the text, a pity when the poets are Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Four female soloists (Gloria) and two male (Credo) were poised while singing on the main stage of Carnegie Hall for undoubtedly their first time.

There is another DCINY event tomorrow, different personnel in a different hall. I’d like to borrow their energy formula!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concert Singers International
Tim Seelig, Conductor Laureate; Greg Gilpin, composer/conductor; Mark Hayes, composer/conductor; Joseph M. Martin, composer/conductor; Sean Berry, Ben Cohen, Heather Sorenson, accompanists
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 17, 2014

For seventy-five years, the Shawnee Press has published music which has become part of the core repertoire of choral groups all over the United States and in many foreign countries. What better way to celebrate this anniversary  than by presenting a sampling of this music performed by fourteen choral groups from twelve states (Ohio and Pennsylvania each sent two groups), a contingent of individual singers from around the globe, vocal soloists, three piano accompanists, and a large orchestra led by four different conductors, all brought to Carnegie Hall by Distinguished Concerts International New York?

First a little history, adapted from the concert’s program notes: “In the late 1930s Fred Waring, renowned bandleader and choral master, and some of his friends formed a music publishing company called WORDS AND MUSIC, INC. As he and his famous singing group, The Pennsylvanians,” grew in stature and popularity, school choral and church choir directors began requesting copies of his unique arrangements. In 1939, the first choral arrangement became available, and in 1947 Mr. Waring changed the name of the company to Shawnee Press.”

Each of the two halves of the concert featured seven of the above mentioned choruses and was divided into two sets, each set directed by a different conductor. First on the podium was Conductor Laureate Tim Seelig, who led the assembled singers and instrumentalists in an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Marvin Gaspard. This lush, technicolor arrangement set a pattern for the concert which, for this listener, contained too many works which would have served as perfect concert finales. It sounded great – the DCINY Orchestra played at its usual high level (although the timpanist did get a little overexcited at times), and who isn’t thrilled by the sound of a huge chorus of avocational singers? The audience loved it, and loved all of the concert’s finale-like works, but did these works give a clear idea of the breadth of the massive Shawnee Press catalogue? This catalogue contains fourteen other arrangements of “America the Beautiful,” and multiple arrangements of many of the nineteen other works on the program. It would have been good to hear some of the more simple arrangements and some of the versions of works with just a piano accompaniment. The audience didn’t mind at all, and reveled all evening in the massed sound.

Next on the podium was Mark Hayes, who led performances of his own compositions and arrangements. The accompanist was Shawn Berry, who also accompanied the first set. I do wish he and the other accompanists, Ben Cohen and Heather Sorenson, had more to do.

A different, even larger chorus took the stage for concert’s second half. Although both choruses produced a pleasant sound, the men were sometimes overpowered by the more numerous women, and both by the sometimes too loud orchestra. Crisper consonants would have also improved the diction. Conductors Greg Gilpin and Joseph M. Martin each led performances of their own compositions and arrangements. As with most of the evening’s arrangements, I found these and those on the first half by Mr. Hayes “too much of a muchness,” often obliterating the simplicity and beauty of the original material. I suspect that these “over the top” works were chosen to make a big impression for this celebratory concert, but to continue with my series of clichés, “less would have been more,” if a more varied repertoire had been offered.

I remember with great pleasure the music in Shawnee Press editions I sang many years ago with the Midwood High School Mixed Chorus. I am sure, thanks to the continued success of Shawnee Press, many thousands of people are now creating, and will in the future create, similar memories.