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Holiday choral concerts grab weekend spotlight

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Choral music took center stage in the form of three concerts attended over the weekend by Examiner.com, revealing a vibrant art form that is not only live and well in Central Indiana but, indeed, flourishing.

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Friday the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus performed in its annual holiday concert “Be Merry! Be Bright!” at the Marian University Theatre. On Saturday, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir joined the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for Handel’s “Messiah” at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University. Doing double duty, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir performed its annual “Festival of Carols,” with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra along with featured guests at Carmel’s Palladium on Sunday.

"Be Merry! Be Bright" - Indianapolis Men's Chorus

The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, whose mission is to inspire “diversity, equality and justice by bringing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered persons and their allies together through the transformative power of music,” led by artistic director and consummate showman Greg Sanders, once again demonstrated its artistic excellence while performing a program of pop, standards and classic Christmas carols.

The sold-out concert was presented in the format of a live radio show, “The WIMC Radio Hour.” Joining IMC pianist D.J. Smith was a nine-piece band, notable for its outstanding horn section, which enlivened the show with its big sound and effusive energy.

Highlights of the concert included the performances of the gregarious ten member IMSwing group, who sang and danced in "Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season," "Cool Yule" and "Turkey Lurkey Time" to choreography created by former Broadway performer Anne Beck, whose witty work added considerable panache to the evening’s entertainment.

Ryan Smith gave the most striking, not to mention stylistically authentic, performance during his solo with members of the chorus in the spiritual song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.”

Alex Reuter was particularly moving when he sang solo during an arrangement of the Back/Gounod and the Shubert versions of “Ave Maria,” along with members of the chorus.

The IMC shone when it sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Do you Hear What I Hear,” “Silent Night” and also when its small group, the Acafellas, performed “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Adding tongue-in-cheek authenticity to the radio show theme were the Andrews Brothers—Rick Barber, Ethan Butt and Josh Cox, each dressed in red plaid dinner jackets, when they performed “Jingaling, Jingaling,” a swing song, in three part harmony.

The IMC, which has become increasingly respected for its artistry and the quality and entertainment value of its performances, once again, through “Be Merry! Be Bright,” demonstrated its versatility in shifting from serious to lighthearted and campy—inspiring and entertaining—without missing a beat.

Handel's "Messiah" - Indianapolis Symphonic Choir & The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

And speaking of quality—all the attributes that make for a top-notch choir—impeccable blend, intonation, diction and expression were evident in the performance of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, under artistic director, Eric Stark, when it joined the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for its annual collaboration and presentation of Handel’s “Messiah.”

A packed Clowes Hall was present to experience the 80-member choir and 37-member orchestra deftly led by the Cleveland Orchestra’s assistant conductor, James Feddick, in the performance of Handel’s oratorio, the performance of which is a popular Christmas tradition throughout the world.

The concert soloists featured were soprano Jessica Beebe, alto Amanda Russo, tenor Benjamin Werley and bass/baritone Zachary Coates, all of whom have or are currently studying at the IU Jacob’s School of Music.

Coates stood out from the standpoint of both his vocal and dramatic expression, particularly during his exciting solo in “The trumpet shall sound…” sequence. Adding to its thrill factor was the musicianship of ISO principal trumpeter Ryan Beach.

As has been the tradition ever since its 1743 London premier (during which the King of England, who was in attendance, stood, prompting everyone present to do the same), the Clowes Hall audience stood during the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The collective gesture made by the concert audience, made up of both young and old, spoke to the venerable status of Handel’s piece as performed by two of Indy’s finest performing arts organization and its importance as a reminder about the birth of Jesus Christ and the true meaning of Christmas.

"Festival of Carols" - Indianapolis Symphonic Choir & Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

130 Indianapolis Symphonic Choir singers performed the following Sunday evening at the Palladium along with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra—all led by Erik Stark in “Festival of Carols.” Also featured were soprano Maria Jette, the Circle City Singers, Out of the Dawg House and the Fishers High School Choir.

Carols sung by the ISC in Act 1, which showcased their virtuosity, included Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin,” “Some Children See Him” and “All My Heart this Night Rejoices,” by Brian Buda, the winner of the 2013 ISC Christmas Carol Commission Competition.

The appealing Jette showed vocal versatility while singing “The Drummer Boy” in French (L’enfant au tambour), arranged by Georges Coulonges, and later during a coquettish styling of “Santa Baby.”

Act 2 featured humorous audience participation in the form of a mock “audition” of “singers selected” by ISC assistant artistic director Michael Davis. He roamed the house looking for unsuspecting audience members to sing the “Five golden rings” lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” For the most part, the voices of those chosen were barely adequate but all were good sports for joining in the fun.

One of the best moments of the concert took place when talented Josh Turner, a Butler University student (also a Dawg House group member) played a lovely guitar solo of “The Christmas Song.”

The Dawg House, a Butler University a Capella singing group, charmed the audience with their ingenious harmonies, stage antics during “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” and their clever take on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker.”

Also demonstrating versatility and vocal finesse was the Fisher’s High School Choir who sang a Cappella in Nicholas Myer’s stunningly beautiful “The Winter’s Night” and the hilarious “Good King Kong,” with kazoo parts, by P.D. Bach.

For tickets and information regarding the remainder of the 2013-2015 season for the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus visit www.indychoruses.org, for the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir its www.indychoir.org and for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra go online to www.indianapolissymphony.org.

Do you wish to become a regular reader of this column? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the “Subscribe” button above. Also, "Like" Tom Alvarez on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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