Concert coming up on Dec. 4 at Abundant Life
By Robert Nein/For The Independent
A jazzy “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”? “O Holy Night” with an African rhythm background? I can hardly wait.
That’s a sample of the vocal offerings we’ll hear from Spokane Choral Artists during Chewelah Arts Guild’s “Joy to the World” Christmas concert on Sunday afternoon, December 4, at Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Chewelah.
So says Max Mendez, a man whose career as singer and choir director spans Bach to opera roles to musical theater. He’s been the director at North Idaho College’s choirs for 11 years and has put together a group of top-flight singers to form SCA.
When I asked him what kind of program we could expect in this concert he answered “interesting, full of variety, and fun.
“We’re opening with sacred music of the Hispanic culture, from central America to Mexico,” he said. “Lots of Latin rhythms, a few percussion instruments, and a bit of guitar.”
After talking with Mendez about the group’s members, I’m thinking SCA is really as advertised on their website: “the premier vocal chamber ensemble in the Inland Northwest.”
It’s like a baseball all-star team. These folks are either music educators or singers at a high professional level. “They had vocal training in colleges with top choirs, like Gonzaga, Whitworth, and St. Olaf,” Mendez said. “They joined us because they wanted to sing repertoire that was challenging and varied.”
An example: the beloved Tchaikovsky Sugar Plum dance. This is an orchestral piece, of course, so in SCA’s version the instruments are all voices. The genre is called “vocalese.” It began in the ‘50s jazz world and was picked up in 1962 by Ward Swingle, whose Paris-based Swingle Singers had a hit record album, “Switched-On Bach.” You can find YouTube cuts of those arrangements by the group’s current octet.
There will be traditional holiday numbers in the choir’s 50-minute set as well: “Carol of the Bells,” for example, and a Hebrew song “Gadol Elohai,” which means “How great is our God.”
Max Mendez is a California transplant. He grew up in Oakland, attended Long Beach State College, and performed in L.A. for 10 years before coming to EWU for graduate work in choral conducting. He says he, his wife, and kids love Couer d’ Alene, where they’ve lived for a decade. Like the members of his Choral Artists, he’s a busy guy who has to juggle lots of commitments.
“This is a labor of love for all of us,” he said. “We find time for rehearsals and concerts because it’s such a joy to tackle demanding music and perform it at a high level of artistry.”
By the way, if you attend this concert you’ll be able to say you sang with Spokane Choral Artists. The concert ends with an audience sing-along of three favorite Christmas carols. Don’t forget to warm up with a few vocal exercises while you’re driving to the church.
Tickets are still available at Valley Drug and Akers Drug in Chewelah and House of Music and Happy’s (Hallmark) Gift Shop in Colville. For only ten bucks you get to hear Chewelah Brass Quintet, Broken Whistle, and Spokane Choral Artists, plus cookies and drinks at intermission. No Santa Claus, but a great holiday deal if I ever heard one.