The audience hardly new what to expect as they gathered at Peace Lutheran Church in Hurst for the Schola Cantorum’s season opener. Called “How the West was Once,” the fifty-first season started off with a program of western music, and by that thy meant the “Old West.”
Yee-haw? Not really.
Some of the music was indeed lighthearted, such as Roger Wagner’s kitschy collection of familiar songs such as Home on the Range. But most of the music on the program consisted of excellently crafted choral music by fine composers and excellently sung.
Conductor Jerry McCoy led his ernest group of choristers through a complex program of contemporary choral music, much of it sung acapella (without the crucial support of pianist Alan Buratto), to grab the complex harmonies and stay on pitch to the end.
Jackson Berkey’s North American Ambiance is a setting of excerpts from the speeches of the most prominent historic tribal chiefs. The composer alternates readings with choral selections. He also dispersed his music around the choir. For example, while one section sings drones or fast repeated passages, others carry the melodic material. Berkey’s music is sometimes vacant and other times thick with jazz harmonies. Rebecca Simonfalvi’s performance on the Native American flute, which came as an interlude, was the loneliest sound you will ever hear with her bending of the pitches.
Three selections from Prairie Scenes by Edwin Fassinger also painted vivid visual pictures, and all three pieces are challenging to sing, with their modern harmonies. The last, Prairie Winds, howled and shrieked around us like a storm.
Perhaps the most creative choral writing came near the end with Stephen Chatman’s Due North. Once again, the composer creates visuals. Mountains rises up with huge walls of sounds. Woodpecker turns the pecking into a vocal scherzo that never lets up. The last movement, Mosquitos, buzzes throughout, or at least until the pesky insect meets an untimely end at the hands of one of the tenors.
Along the way, we heard more familiar music, such as Shenandoah and The Yellow Rose of Texas, but this was a program of choral music at its best. It is a shame that it wasn’t better attended.