America Sings

dancingrousseaupaintingsldr.jpgAmerica Sings was the title of a concert presented by the Colla Voce Chamber Singers last weekend. It was an ambitious undertaking—to give voice to an entire country in 90 minutes.  I was astonished by the depth, beauty, and diversity of the program.

A Viet Nam veteran’s foxhole prayer, Borrowed Time, was the centerpiece. Before the concert began, the director asked veterans to stand. Around 25 men and one woman rose. The audience of 300 broke into spontaneous applause. The soldier-poet, Brennan Toohey, was introduced, as well as the composer, William Brusick, who’d flown in from Texas.

I felt like a wet dishrag by the time the piece was over. The intense, honest, direct  words of the soldier combined with the haunting modern composition was devastating—in the best way.  And my catharsis was shared. Everyone in the row had tears sliding down their cheeks.  

We’d been asked to hold our applause, and there was total silence as the choir segued into an introspective Alleluia, while audience members who’d lost loved ones lit candles.  Randall Thompson’s Alleluia, composed during World War 2, served as benediction and release.

Although the emotional gravitas of the concert centered on sacrifice and death, the concert as a whole provided a huge range of moods and experiences.  It opened with clear and beautiful Native American flute music, romped through Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and included jazz standards that the audience was invited to dance to.

Perhaps the thing I admired most about the concert was its commitment to audience participation. At every Colla Voce concert there’s a brief audience sing along, but for America Sings, we belted out the first stanzas of Down in the Valley, Home on the Range, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, and Oh! Susanna. The rafters in the room rocked with song.  The candles around the room blazed with light. Couples danced happily to As Time Goes By.

Janine Dexter, Colla Voce’s founder and artistic director (and, truth be told, my friend) is passionately dedicated to music as an agent of personal transformation.  Colla Voce’s tagline is “creating opportunities for engagement in the arts—for all ages.” In addition to the chamber singers, Colla Voce has a children’s chorus, family choir, a singing program for adults with neurological impairments, and music docent programs in elementary schools.  Very shortly they’re adding a senior choir, a choir for developmentally disabled adults, and jazz singing for young adults.

Colla Voce, and Janine, are making a difference in many lives.  And they’re having fun while they’re at it.


 The image above is A Centennial of Independence, Henri Rousseau, courtesy of the Getty Museum’s Open Content program.