Napa Valley: The Musical
Future and current Napa Valley winemakers were in the house Sunday afternoon as the long anticipated “Spring Concert” of the Saint Helena Children’s Chorus and Teen Choir rocked a standing room only audience at the Saint Helena Catholic Church. The vibrancy of the Napa Valley music scene was on full display as more than 60 voices rang out in a show featuring 16 numbers representing a large and heady range of genres.
The well-honed and pitch perfect set of tenors on display Sunday demonstrated that if the Valley proves that wine is art, then surely music inspires the artists. Winemaking mothers and fathers and a generous collection of music lovers swayed to show tunes, pop standards, traditional spirituals regional folk tunes and even the nation’s National Anthem.
Led by Director Craig Bond, the Concert set forth with a preview of what the combined cast of the Children’s Chorus and Teen Choir have planned for a stadium full of San Francisco Giant Fans on June 20th. The audience stood as angelic voices rang forth with a stellar rendition of the National Anthem. Giant’s fans are in for a treat! The Star Spangled Banner is not the easiest tune even for the most seasoned singer. But the children and teens nailed it, hitting the highs and lows with precision and feeling.
But the show, which could have gone down hill from that high, just kept getting better. The highlight of the Children’s Chorus set surely came with a roof raising cover of the Jackson Five’s “I’ll be There”. Singers and audience alike swayed as the classic seventies ballad was delivered with great soul and passion, while the only solo of the concert was delivered by a wee boy who marched confidently on his own out of the chorus to front the group and render Michael’s solo on that old pop tune into his own.
The transition from pop standard to show tunes was navigated seamlessly by Director Bond who led the chorus through two numbers from The Lion King. The memorable arrangement given to “Hakunah Matata” provided this group of 8 to 12 year-olds with the opportunity to demonstrate their range through a playful collection of movements.
The crowded wood pews at the old St. Helena Catholic Church continued to buzz as the Children’s Chorus moved off he stage to make room for the Teen Choir, a smaller but equally exciting and well-honed group. Director Bond moved his choir though a six-number set that was equally as diverse as that performed by younger voices before them.
This music reviewer, however, was a bit concerned upon seeing that “Alleluia” was slated as the second number to be performed by the Choir. This classic devotional is too often a throw-away or filler song by many choirs and too often run through in a perfunctory manner. As it turned out, not with this group. In the hands of the Teen Choir, “Alleluia” was the soaring and inspiring tribute to faith that it should be, performed with stunning harmony and muted grace.
Then next highlight came with “Happy Together”, the 1967 Turtles song that knocked the Beatles “Penny Lane” out of the #1 spot on the Billboard 100 in February of that year. In the vaulted voiced of the Teen Choir, “Happy Together” was shown to be perfectly suited for the choir format. Director Bond moved his charges though a jaunty rendition of the Turtles’ hit that harkened to the “poppy” character of the tune as well as toward a more melodious and almost contemplative attack of the song. It was a highlight.
The Teen Choir ended its performance with a contemporary folk number entitled “River Song, composed by a California songwriter. The most complex arrangement of the collection of six songs performed by the Teen Choir, “River Song” gave the voices on stage the opportunity to interact with violin and flute, brought on state to accompany the Teen voices for the first and only time that afternoon. A soulful and searching piece celebrating the movement and ordered cacophony of the river, “River Song” was lifted high out of the venue by the choir that embraced this more challenging tune with a measured gusto that was rewarded with grateful cheers by the capacity crowd.
Audrey Jordan, a member of the Children’s Chorus positioned throughout the performance directly in the center of her four-row troop and with post-performance bouquets of roses in one hand and tulips in the other, offered her own insight on the memorable experience Sunday carried out by her, her peers and caught in memory by the full house of winemaker parents and local music lovers: “It’s lots of fun and there is never any fear. We just sing.”
Indeed, do they sing!