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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Review: Grand, exceptional, heavenly choirs

Posted in: Performance
By Richard Howard - 8th April 2010

Out & Loud
GLBTT Music Festival and Concert

Auckland Town Hall

4 April 2010

More than 200 choral singers from throughout Australasia and various parts of America joined our very own GALS Choir here in Auckland over Easter for the third triennial music camp, festival and grand public performance at the Town Hall.

When I say “grand” I mean “damn that newly refurbished grand organ in the town Hall is vast and it kicks out a foundation-shattering sound!!” It’s a must do, must see! Add two hundred or so voices in the several massed choir sequences and you could swear that you are in that divine place you always wanted to be.

Opening with a song of heart and values 
One Voice by Luis Spedaliere & David Basden; borne out of the opposition to the Pauline Hansen right-wing phenomena; we got our first taste of the nine choirs on mass. It  was great sound and the song carried the acknowledgment of this unique international gathering of GLBTT men and women and the musical promise of what was to follow.

What followed was the reciprocation, the marking of place and unique New Zealand culture; a beautiful if somewhat predictable choice, with the mass choir singing ‘Pokarekare Ana’ (arrangement by Douglas Mews).

Jean Malcolm conducted The Homophones from Wellington through three very different pieces, in Maori, Latin and “American” –
Tihore Mai Te Rangi, Laudate Dominium and Somewhere Over the Rainbow; the conductor suitably attired in Dorothy’s red slippers (sparkling red high heels in this case).

It was always going to be a difficult job to for any small individual choir to follow straight upon the heels of the mass choir performance; with grand organ in behind.  Unless that following choir is exceptional, there is naturally going to be an abrupt thinning of volume and tone; rather like turning your stereo way down and to mono all of a sudden.

This proved to be so for the Homophones , Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire , Out Loud Choir from Cairns and the Gay and lesbian Singers from Western Australia who made up the bulk of the first half. While there was some creditable singing from these groups there was not a mastery of the music or style demonstrated and most listeners were probably a little underwhelmed.

Of course no one expects that community choirs necessary aspire to professional and exceptional standards; they are what they are in terms of people availability, repertoire, musical skills and group interests. Nevertheless as an audience member I found myself wanting a great deal more strength, sense of musical line and precision from these choirs especially in a “grand concert “setting. We hope that this may come as the years roll on and experience grows.

Special mention has to go to the brightly costumed tropical fruit mix from Cairns, a small warm-hearted group of about seven singers, for the most “extraordinary musical contribution” of the evening –
You’ll Be In My Heart; a topical musical commentary of love by the fire place (in the 1970’s it seemed) and the demon Pope, or something similar. I mean, who thought this was good idea? No, sorry we love you but, no!!

The Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Choir returned us to a degree of strength and performance ready singing but really the rest of the evening was carried away by three superb performances

The first by Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir put some serious camp into the evening with ‘Gay Vs Straight Composers’ a medley of reputation challenging and shattering lyrics set to the composers’ most familiar classical tunes.  It was funny and, yes, this was an action song, beautifully put together and choreographed under the baton of Sarah Penikca- Smith,  herself a vision in low sheen, backless, black satin and tightly criss-crossed cording - wooo whooo!

GALS sang the best I have ever heard them sing, conducted by the highly-skilled Stephen Bowness.
You’ll never Walk Alone was sung with beautiful control, shape and eloquent highlights and shading. The men rose to the challenge on this occasion, singing strongly and with confidence in the material and the demands of performance.

(words by Apirana Taylor and music by Anthony Ritchie) sung also by GALS was perhaps the most musically interesting piece of the evening with strong emphasis on the percussion like quality of carving and an appealing interplay of voice, rhythm and harmonies.

The massed choir returned to do  honour to David Hamilton’s first public performance of
Me He Korokoro Tui, conducted by Karen Grylls, with Dr Indra Hughes on the Grand Organ. This is the second piece commissioned from David specifically for GALS and it is a sensational musical sound-scape for mass voice, organ and bird chorus; which is instantly recognisable as “our music”.

GLBTT Events like Out & Loud are rare in scale and quality and great appreciation has to be offered to the local and international participants, to the organisers and supporters who opened this refreshing new dimension to the Gay Scene of our city. Special thanks to Jan Suckling and Jan Wuis and colleagues. It is well worth taking note what we are capable of as a community when we choose to focus.

- Richard Howard

Richard Howard - 8th April 2010

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