What better way to follow up the blog’s introductory post of a review of one of my favorite singers than with a review of one of my favorite ensembles? So let’s dig in and see (quite literally) what California State University, Northridge’s Women’s Chorale had to show at their 2019 spring semester concert!
Before we dive into the music, I should explain the significance the ensemble holds in my heart. When I was a tiny first-year music student at the college level, I found myself scrambling to meet my concert attendance requirement for my first semester. It never failed to impress me to see the talent of those I now shared a school with, but nothing I had attended so far had prepared me for what I was about to witness the night I first settled into my seat at CSUN’s Cypress Recital Hall to enjoy my first concert by the school’s Women’s Chorale conducted by Dr. Katherine Ramos Baker. In short, the women came out on stage, started singing, and I had what I can only describe as a religious experience as I was dazzled by the color that I now know can only be produced by an all-female group. Since then, I’ve made it a tradition to attend each semester’s performance, and I encourage anyone who wants to be just as blown away by these amazing musicians to do so as well.
The evening began with a couple of unaccompanied pieces, including CSUN’s own “Hail to the Matadors.” To me, one of the most powerful moments in every concert for this ensemble is the opening of “Hail to the Matadors”, which begins with the choir singing in unison. This simplicity produces a relatively predictable bright yellow, which is similar to what in my experience is the most common color for women’s voices and therefore seems like what I’d expect from a group of women singing. However, partway into the song, the choir splits and begins to harmonize, and this is where the magic really begins to happen. The bright yellow color flares into a vivid brilliant gold that I’ve never seen achieved by a single woman alone, and is the closest thing I’ve seen to my childhood memories of sunlight. Keeping with the theme, I was equally dazzled by the Flower Duet from Lakmé, which set the choir against the white of the piano accompaniment. With the strength of the choirs performance, this piece made me think of what it looked like to see the sun break through a cloudy day.
Next up came a tribute to Aretha Franklin, in the form of a medley with excerpts from “Think”, “I say a Little Prayer”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and “Respect”. Despite the simplicity of the arrangement with the accompaniment provided only by piano and drums, an interesting aspect of this piece was that the color from the choir filled out the areas that would normally be occupied by the bright colors of a horn section.
My favorite part of the evening came with the performance of “May It Be”, originally recorded by Enya for The Lord of the Rings. There are moments to appreciate the flashy acrobatics of a complicated melody, and then there are moments like those during this piece that make me step back and just appreciate the sheer beauty of the color of a timbre. This semester’s ensemble was a particularly full and resonant bunch, which led to the interesting affect of appearing like the choir was supporting the piano accompaniment instead of vice versa. The image this gave me was of staring into a pool of liquid sunlight, with the gentle ebb and flow of the lyrics and articulation moving the delicate white blossoms on its surface that were created by the right hand of the piano part.
The evening concluded with a staple for the Women’s Chorale, Brendan Graham’s “The Voice”. With the arrangement’s use of one of my favorite color combinations of yellow from the choir against the blues and greens of ensemble strings, it certainly didn’t disappoint. This is often the closing song at the Women’s Chorale concerts, and with it being so colorful compared to the mostly piano-only accompaniments of the pieces that came before it, it always serves as a stunning end to the evening’s music.
Keep an eye out for future performances from the Women’s Chorale, along with the school’s other ensembles, by visiting the calendar of events.