Chanticleer Voices The Spirit of Christmas [REVIEW] REVIEW: Chanticleer @ Walt Disney Concert Hall 12/20/16
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There’s power in music. Especially during the holiday season.
I spent all of my college career singing in a choral group, so I may be slightly biased when it comes to this topic, but I believe that there is something divine in the way human voices can touch souls. Without the accompaniment of musical instruments, or any technological enhancements for that matter, I find that whenever voices are singing a melodic line in perfect harmony, there’s a switch in my brain that brings me a certain state of peaceful euphoria. When those voice’s sound waves bounce off the architecture of the venue, I listen for additional voices, overtones; something that I affectionately call “the voice of angels”.
Though most choral music is secular, I’m not religious. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate, and fall in love with, the music that is being performed. In fact, for me, the lyrical content in choral music is almost secondary. Notwithstanding the fact that much of the music is written in a language other than English (i.e. Latin, German, French, Spanish, etc), my partial indifference to choral music’s lyrical content is somewhat ironic because when it comes to popular music, I harp on lyrical content all of the time. But choral music, when performed in tune and with the emotion that it’s composers intended, can be transcendent even without a translation.
On December 20, 2016, the “world’s reigning male chorus” (as dubbed by The New Yorker), Chanticleer, graced the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s stage during their annual Christmas tour. The male choir I sang in in college was fantastic, but we weren’t no Chanticleer. This 12 person choir is able to sing complex arrangements with immaculate precision. The ability of their countertenors to hit notes that I can only dream of while blending into the overall sound of the group amazes me every time.
As me and my guest arrived at the venue for the evening’s performance, she mentioned that, “I’m not typically a fan of Christmas music, in fact I can’t stand bad singers singing Christmas carols … but this is different.” We both laughed because she was right. Though it can be great fun to sing carols along with others during the holidays, it most likely won’t measure up to the way that Chanticleer sings them.
As we took our seats, I noticed that microphones weren’t set up for the group. For a brief moment, I questioned whether their 12 naked voices would be able fill such a grand hall that seats over 2,200 people. My concerns were assuaged as soon as they took the stage. As the lights dimmed, the group marched on stage singing in the dark, each member holding a candle to guide their way to the center. After their dramatic entrance, they blew out their candles as the house lights came up and they proceeded to masterfully voice the music in the program.
A highlight of the evening for me was their performance of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria”. The piece was brought to the United States by my collegiate choral group in 1970, and having sung the piece on numerous occasions, I have a particular affinity to it. In fact, the piece has made me shed many a tear on numerous occasions.
As the voices of the trio meld with the voices of the chorus, I’m once again transported to realm of musical bliss. The crowd is absolutely still, with nary a suppressed caught breaking the mellifluous harmonies that echo in the venue. I listen carefully, and I can hear the angel voices supplementing the harmonies and it truly is breathtaking.
They conclude their performance with a selection of Christmas carols/songs, taking songs that are known by all and giving them the inimitable infusion of complex harmonies and rhythms that they are known for. Their new arrangement of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was a special treat, and the lack of them having that recording available for sale was the only part of the evening that left me wanting.
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