News & Reviews
"Songs of Light: Yuletide - Hanukkah - Winter Solstice" - December 9, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
The community feeling was set up at the start when Artistic Director, Janine Dexter, addressed the audience, informing us that we would be singing as part of the program. With that, she led us in a little vocalization and practicing our part in “O Holy Night” that would come at the end of the concert. Then we heard the first of the flute (Vivian de la Cruz-Stanley) and clarinet (Elizabeth McAllister) that would be playing a part in so many of the coming selections. Their “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker set the holiday mood.
But the mood turned serious when, with the church darkened, tenor Don Thomas circled the audience intoning a Gregorian chant. (Click here to view the entire printed program with titles and composers of the various selections.) When Don reached the back of the church, he was joined by David Mendenhall and Craig Wheaton. Each of them proceeded to sing the same musical line, but in a different octave. Whoever it was at the lowest range had an amazing basso profondo voice.
... An interesting feature of this concert was the closeness of the singers. It’s common for choruses to achieve a certain degree of intimacy with their audience by singing part of their program from the aisles, but this church was so small that Janine directed next to the first row of pews, and the choir was only about 6 feet in front of her (and the rest of us). The whole audience surely felt the nearness of the choir, but the effect was dramatic for those of us in the first few rows. It meant that one could occasionally hear individual voices, which is usually not desirable for choral singing. But since that could hardly be avoided, rather than an annoyance, I found it an interesting, unique experience.
NEWS: Auburn Choir Seeks to Improve Music Programs
Music programs in three Auburn schools will benefit from a $7,000 grant from Colla Voce this year. Bowman Charter School, Alta Vista Charter Academy and Skyridge Elementary will all implement the Bravo Music Appreciation Curriculum this year thanks to the grant, according to Janine Dexter, artistic coordinator for Colla Voce. The grant is through a local family that Dexter said wishes to remain anonymous.
"I got tired of hearing about what the state should be providing if they had any money, which they don't. I figure the arts education and early imprinting of our children is our responsibility as a community, so why not take back that responsibility and do something about it rather than expending that energy complaining about what isn't happening," Dexter said.
Songs of the British Isles - May 6, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
This remarkable offering by the Colla Voce Chamber Singers at Pioneer Methodist Church in Auburn was more of an experience than a traditional concert. It felt like a tightly constructed quilt of diverse elements that made a supremely artistic whole.
The experience actually began in the parking lot with two men playing bagpipes. The entertainment continued almost 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the concert with a fiddler (Annie Begin) quieting the house with her playing of Celtic tunes. Then Artistic Director Janine Dexter led the audience in “rehearsing” two songs with which they were to sing along during the program.
The concert itself began with a single woman, walking from the back of the room, in costume and with a basket of flowers, singing (beautifully) “Won’t You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender?” Presently she was joined by other flower “sellers” and the rest of the choir humming from the back of the church in four-part harmony.
As the choir moved to the front of the church, we saw that all the women were in what appeared to be 19th-century working class costumes – a couple even wore hats; the men were in black, except one who was sporting a kilt. The songs came in succession – sometimes with brief fiddle, cello or piano music for transition – but with no opportunity for the audience to applaud, and the tension from wanting to do so built explosively.
The first eight pieces were a variety of English, Scottish and Irish folk songs or poetry set to music. The audience was transported to an earlier time and a rural place, through surpassingly beautiful arrangements of simple music – some familiar tunes, some not – sensitively delivered. The blend of the choir was extraordinary, and the soft singing was exquisite.
Helping to set the mood was the projection of British Isle-themed still images and videos. There was no screen, so the images appeared broken on the uneven contours of the front of the church. The effect was impressionistic, which is to say that, fragmented though they were, one still got the message of the images, which were coordinated with the text of the music. One piece in this first set, Ubi Caritas by Paul Mealor, was very different in character from the others, having been commissioned by Prince William for his wedding. This was accompanied by video of a cathedral, and the close-up of the rose window at one point in the piece was electrifying.
A remarkable feature of this program was the variety in its component elements. The choir kept moving, singing from different parts of the church. There were different combinations of singers: seven-member group, 14-member group, men only, women only, and soloists of such quality that they were a delight to listen to (not always the case when a chorus draws on its members). Then there was the storyteller. Joan Stockbridge took the floor twice during the program to deliver delightful Celtic folk tales. And later in the program, three children (age about 6 to about 14, two girls and a boy) danced their way down the aisle and onto the dais at the front of the church, performing first to instrumental accompaniment (fiddle and bodhran) and then to the singing of the choir. They were students from Roseville’s O’Sullivan Academy of Irish Dance, and they were entrancing. They were followed by an adult Irish dancer who also performed beautifully.
There was great variety in the mood of the musical selections, and there was even a delightful a cappella rendition of Lennon & McCartney’s "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, plus their "If I Fell". The program culminated in a stirring, choreographed version of Loch Lomond that had the women sitting next to me in tears on account of their Scottish ancestry. Capping the experience, the choir sang John Rutter’s moving Irish Blessing, while surrounding the audience.
This was an inspired program, crafted from many different elements, and it transported the audience to a different time and place – highlighted throughout by superb singing and sensitive directing. I can’t imagine the program working as well for a much larger venue than the roughly 200-seat Pioneer Methodist Church in Auburn, but there should have been many more than three performances of this wonderful show.
Hats Off To You
Words cannot describe how moved we were by the whole orchestration of the incredible concert. It was very moving. I cried in the beginning and I’m not one to cry very often....
It was amazing what level of energy you have been able to uplift from all the voices, whether it was the storyteller or whether it was the group. It was quite amazing.
Hats off to you... congratulations!
— Andrea Kelly, MFT, Granite Bay
A Musical Event to be Treasured
If you missed Music on The Divide’s Christmas concert on Dec. 19, you passed up a magnificent performance by a premiere musical group, Colla Voce. This mixed group of 25 voices stirred the souls of those attending with their beautiful voices, their vibrant sound and their performance skills. Very few choruses in the nation have the ability to be spread throughout the hall, stand alone and sing in perfect harmony with their ethereal and sublime sounds.
The group was led by Janine Dexter whose background includes conducting, arranging and piano. She held the group tightly under control at all times with her gentle, guiding hands held aloft. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree at University of the Pacific and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Choral Conducting at CSU, Los Angeles.
The program began with a group of rather unfamiliar Christmas selections that were haunting and intriguing, which included the “Huron Carol” written by Father Jean de Brefeuf who lived from 1593-1649. The audience also heard two world premiere performances- “Winter Bells” and “Winter Sleep” written by Brian and June Steckler. The group boasts the inclusion of a storyteller, Joan Stockbridge, who told the mythical story of the “Raven and the Whale.” She held the audience’s attention throughout with the storyline and her manner of storytelling.
This was followed by “Blow, Blow Thou Wind Winter Wind” in which the audience was asked to affect a whooshing sound like the wind. Parenthetically, outside the IOOF Hall, the wind, thunder and lightning struck at just the appropriate moment to everyone’s astonishment. One of the major works sung was by Benjamin Britten. “A Ceremony of Carols” was written while he was sailing across the Atlantic in 1942 in the midst of a German U-boat pack. It was written originally for a boy’s chorus in three parts in Middle English words, “Wolcum Yole!” or “Welcome Yule.” This work was accompanied by the excellent talents of harpist Candice LiVolsi. There were 11 movements, all sung with precision and flair.
After the intermission the chorus sang more familiar carols including “Past Three O’ Clock,” “O Tannenbaum,” John Rutter’s “Angel’s Carol,” “The Wild Geese,” and “Winter Calling.” Then came the return of storyteller, Joan Stockbridge who continued along with the myth “The Raven Steals the Light.”The final selections included USC Professor Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night” to the more familiar “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and finally the immortal “White Christmas” of Irving Berlin.
In addition to the fabulous harpist, Candice LiVolsi, the audience was treated to the outstanding flute playing of Vivian de la Cruz-Stanley, and pianist Angela Roland whose flawless playing was delightful for all to hear.In summary, we could not have had a more polished and sensitive chorus to bring the “Christmas Spirit” to Georgetown on a wintry Sunday afternoon.
— Town Crier - Georgetown Divide / Concert Review , January 2011
Reflection on Two Choral Concerts
The second concert of last weekend was by Colla Voce, a premier singing ensemble from Auburn. Oh my, it was sublime, one of the best choral concerts I’ve ever heard. Two dozen voices conducted by Janine Dexter singing exquisitely with some accompaniment (piano, clarinet, flute, and fun percussion). Some playful pieces, some classics, some upbeat and some more somber; one by Rutter brought to mind the word “swishy” and one by a young Joshua Shank, atonal and stunning; I thought of leaves falling to the earth, appropriate because the name of the piece was “Autumn.”
The singers moved around, too, which made for eye interest: in a circle; the group split in half, calling and responding across the room from each other, in normal choir formation.
A rousing organ solo by Grace Lutheran Church organist got the blood pounding. That organ, hand built and in a room that was acoustically perfect for it, has one lovely feature that is perfect for the holidays: a stop that causes tinkling bells that are either delicate or a little more robust. Very nice indeed.
This ensemble sings mostly a capella, something only the best can do well. The deep men’s voices are especially luscious. They all are excellent singers, confident and attuned to Dexter. Yet another, surprise: No intermission. I LOVED that. Uninterrupted music means the mood isn’t broken.
Colla Voce plans to come back to Grace Lutheran on Ridge Road in Grass Valley May 9. Don’t miss it.
— Posted by Pam Jung on theunion.com
December 18, 2008 ....choral groups to watch
I just got to your recording of “Autumn” (finally!) and I LOVE it.…How do you get such a wonderful sound out of such a small ensemble? “Autumn” is not an easy piece by any means and the wind chimes added something perfect to the entire experience. They make the audience think immediately about what they’ve heard. It’s so much easier for them to do that with something else sounding other than silence at the end of the piece.
— "joshua-shank" (Joshua Shank, composer) December 29, 2008
Thank you so very much for making it possible for Karen and me to attend your concert Sat. evening. By now you have received the onrush of well deserved lauds, but I am compelled to send ours too. You and your choir captured our souls with the music you presented. I appreciate and still marvel at the artistry and sensitivity that you instilled so deeply in the singers. Your personality and love of music shone through the program and bubbled forth in your impromptu comments to the audience. Though you dressed as the artist, it was also apparent that the genius for organization, support and the business of art reside in you, too. I admire your total achievement. Auburn is very blessed to have you living and creating in its community.
Though Karen and I didn’t come forth to meet you personally after your concert, I came to know you and appreciate your skill and spirit by attending your concert.
Richard Geisler, Town Crier, Grass Valley/Nevada City, May 12, 2008