So You Want To Sing!
– by Lee Greene
If you’ve been reading Jacksonville Review’s reviews [or the reviews published on Performing Arts Reviews] of performing arts events in the Rogue Valley, you’d get the impression that our community offers top quality entertainment, performed by international touring virtuosos, skilled professional musicians, and top flight performers, to rival the quality offered in much larger metropolises in the U.S. and abroad. That certainly applies to vocal music, as the Rogue Valley sustains a surfeit of superior quality professional and semi-professional choral ensembles, including the incomparable Southern Oregon Repertory Singers (who under the gifted leadership of Dr. Paul French sing with such polish and skill that their performances can and do rival that of any chorale currently singing anywhere), the Rogue Valley Chorale (under the direction of the talented Laurie Anne Hunter), the Siskiyou Singers (led by remarkable director and arranger Mark Reppert), and the Three Rivers Chorale (directed by Kate Campell), to name a few. All of those choral ensembles pride themselves not only on the polish and precision of their performances, but the superior quality of their personnel, which is selective and open only to those who can pass qualifying audition requirements, which are ever more challenging with the increasing aspirations and sophistication of the particular choir.
Although that is indeed a correct impression, i.e., that the Rogue Valley presents an abundance of high quality choral music by professional and semi-professional ensembles, it is an incomplete one. Because THAT does not represent the totality of opportunities to enjoy or participate in vocal music in our community. One of the great virtues of living in the Rogue Valley is the wide variety of performing arts organizations, events, and opportunities available here. Suppose YOU want to sing, but you’re not a professional singer? What about someone who just plain enjoys singing, but isn’t prepared to audition for a selective choir? What if you find great fun in singing with a group, but are put off by the affectations and trappings of the selective professional and semi-professional choirs? Well, there still are wonderful opportunities to sing here, as was demonstrated the weekend before Thanksgiving at two concerts performed by the Voices of the Applegate.
Voices of the Applegate is a community choir that draws singers from the Applegate Valley and beyond. They have been performing a variety of choral music, from classical to traditional, for 13 years, and meet for rehearsals at the Ruch, OR Library on Wed. evenings for 13 weeks to prepare for their performances. Jacksonville native, music teacher and choir director Blake Weller is their music director. This choir is open to anyone who wants to sing; there aren’t any auditions required to join. Now you might be thinking, oh that means they’re not very good, and not worth making an effort to attend their concerts. And if that’s what you’re thinking you would be dead wrong. What the Voices of the Applegate lack in the formalities, trappings, and polish of the more selective choirs, they more than make up for in the enthusiasm, pure joy, and obvious fun they present in their performances.
Just how enjoyable a Voices of the Applegate concert can be was demonstrated during their Autumn Concerts on Friday, Nov. 21 at Jacksonville’s Historic Presbyterian Church and Sunday, Nov. 23 at the Applegate River Ranch House in Applegate. True to their mission and billing, the choir performed a wide variety of choral music. The dozen pieces they performed in these concerts included jazz numbers, like the 1940’s sensation, Java Jive; show tunes like Rodger & Hart’s My Funny Valentine; pop pieces like the 1960’s hit by The Foundations, Build Me Up Buttercup; several madrigals including the English Madrigal, Matona, Lovely Maiden and the Italian O Occhi, Manza Mia and Amor Vittorioso; a couple of Shaker songs, Bow Down Low and Here Take This Lovely Flower; and a couple of spirituals, Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep and The Storm Is Passing Over. While they may lack the competitive caliber of singers performing with the selective choirs, and some of the polish and trappings of the performances of those other choirs, everything was sung in key, the voices were all together, the harmonies were tight, and there was nothing deficient musically in the Voices of the Applegate performances. Give Director Weller his due; he has these singers well prepared and they do a fine job with their music. But that doesn’t do the performances justice. The most memorable take-away from these concerts is just how much fun these singers are having; they simply exude enthusiasm and joy while singing. It’s contagious; their audiences can’t help but enjoy the performances and leave happy. I could go on trying to find a way to effectively describe what Voices of the Applegate does and why their performances are appreciated by their audiences. But I will never be able to convey it as effectively as you can for yourself by viewing a Voices of the Applegate performance. So I shall give you a glimpse of one, an excerpt recording of the last minute of one of their performances of the spiritual, Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep:
Last minute excerpt of “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep” (Traditional Spiritual arranged by Moses Hogan) performed by Voices of the Applegate, under the direction of Blake Weller, featuring Soprano soloist Catherine Hansen, on Nov. 23, 2014 at Applegate River Ranch House, Applegate, OR.
If you’re looking for a place to sing, don’t want to have to audition, and just want to have fun singing, Voices of the Applegate is eager to add more singers. For more information about singing with Voices of the Applegate, call Joan Peterson at 541-846-6988. If you just want to enjoy a fun choral concert, with a wide variety of vocal music, Voices of the Applegate will present its next concerts on April 10, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Historic Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, and April 12 at 2:00pm at the Applegate River Ranch House in Applegate. Did I mention admission to their concerts is FREE? Donations are accepted. Can’t beat the price!
This review was originally published by the Jacksonville Review on November 24, 2014 at http://jacksonvillereview.com/want-sing/