Tuesday, October 19, 2010

REVIEW: Fox Cities Choral Music Festival

Appleton North, Menasha, and Winnecone High Schools got together to perform both separately and together for the 7th Annual Fox Cities Choral Music Festival.  The program opened with a dramatic Appleton North entrance, followed by the Menasha High School Choir, which performed an eclectic group of pieces - one of which was obtained by director Thomas Walter on a recent trip to Slovakia. Winnecone followed with a high energy and very enjoyable performance of Keane and Faulkner's "Mouth Music."  Winnecone had a nice tight sound on this piece, which must have been difficult to do while performing such fast-paced and syllabic choral music.

After intermission, the three choirs combined to perform two very beautiful choral pieces of literature.  The guest conductor, Dr. Jo Ann Miller from North Dakota State University,  commanded a clarity and accuracy from the massed choir that was impressive considering its size.  While both works that she chose, Mendelssohn's "How Lovely are the Messengers," and Mozart's "Veni Sancte Spiritus," are fantastic choral works, and were performed nicely by the massed group, I felt that to perform both in succession was a bit redundant.  It seemed that an opportunity was missed to end with a high-energy and powerful selection that a group of that size could really execute well.

While the entire performance was a joy to watch and hear, the clear standout of the evening was the Appleton North Choir, particularly their performance of Charles Stanford's "Beati Quorum Via."  This is a 6-part choral work that is far more difficult than it sounds.  It takes a strong group committed to blend, vowel, line, word stress, and sensitivity to pull off such a piece, and they did so masterfully.  Congratulations to Craig Aamot and the North Choir for such an inspiring and stunning performance.

The only unpleasant aspect of the entire evening was watching a few parents wave repeatedly to their kids on stage in an effort to get their attention.   Seriously, parents - your kids are in high school.  That might have been cute 10 years ago, but this performance venue and the ability levels of your kids demand more professionalism on your part.

This is a yearly event that I always enjoy attending.  High School Vocal Ensembles are capable of some amazing things, and it is always fun and interesting to watch what these different directors and ensembles bring to the table.  Jim Heiks, the emcee for the evening, spoke briefly at the beginning of the performance about teenagers' seeming lack of ability to focus, and how the demands of music can give them such focus.  I could not agree with him more.  Vocal music students understand the time, effort, and intensity that are needed to prepare for a good performance, and this is a life lesson that is not limited to the music world.  This is an art form that has the ability and potential to prepare young people for life in unique and powerful ways.

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