LETTER TO EDITOR / Keys Choral Arts Spring Concert

By Rick Boettger

The evening after the final concert of the Southernmost Chamber Society was the Keys Choral Arts concert. Like drinking music from a fire hose. Director Tim Peterson, tenor Jordan Sommer, and violinist Irie Monte were featured in both, and I don’t know how they did it.

My review of the Christmas concert in 2022 was so over the top with fulsome praise that I hesitated to ever review them again, out of seeming to be backing off. Solution: this review will make no judgments, no hyperbolic adjectives, just observations of fact, nouns and verbs only please.

The first simple observation is that Tim has beaten them all into looking up over their music and smiling when singing to us. None of my choral directors ever succeeded in that when I was lost in my sheet music. And they added a close-order drill of the entrances and exits, especially when the 24 members of the Chamber Chorus Singers carved themselves out and rearranged themselves for a single song in the second half.

Tim also Unleashed The Sopranos on some of the big endings, though it was actually an alto, Nancy Mischka, who I thought carried the two biggest group notes of the evening. I could hear 49 of the 54 voices individually, meaning it was a true group effort, and probably the five I couldn’t distinguish was the fault of my own ear.

The first half of the evening was an 8-song Mass. We were asked not to applaud until the end, and the same director who commands eyes-up and right harch got his audience to restrain themselves except for just a few who burst forth when that damned tenor, excuse me, my favorite tenor Jordan Sommer lit up a Righteous Shine from “Elijah,” and I felt stifled to not clap then myself. Jordan’s Amen in “Ave Maria” was one of the few voices that stood above the crowd, I think in a good cause, but then again I was infamous for, as Tim called it, “soloing” from the baritone ranks. Overwhelmingly, the voices blended seamlessly as good choralists are wont to do.

An example of Tim’s blending was “Shalom.” It started with four lines of altos, adding three with the sopranos, then two with the tenors before completing the quartet with two lines of the baritones. It then segued to Irie Monte’s classical violin for a chorus, with this time the baritones initiating the blend, then the tenors, and finally all of the women. I am now stifling myself, because I want to go all hyperbolic here. Not tears as in 2022, but chills to hear.

Further blending was the balance of the singing with the keyed accompaniment. About the only criticism of Emily Boyd’s direction was the overwhelming volume of her organist. Here, the singers were the focus, sometimes a Capella. One time the organ came in so delicately I first surveyed the altos to hear who was holding that low note, only to suddenly realize Chaz was sneaking in his support. And throughout, Lou Ann Steely kept the piano in pianoforte.

After intermission a big change of pace with a rollicking “Every time I Feel the Spirit,” such a complex arrangement that eyes were more fixed on the sheet music, and Tim graphically mouthed the lyrics to help guide everyone. More than mouthed! Near the climax, he couldn’t stop himself, and joined in with what I thought was the soprano, it was such a high tenor. Tim has the range and precision I’d only previously known with the KWHS’s James Carter, able not only to sight read but sing all of the voices in the chorale. Tim started as a vocalist in college, and I’m glad he indulged himself with a few measures. Want to keep the boss happy.

The soloists all acquitted themselves admirably, and I was especially happy to hear how Tim has musically managed the group’s long-serving President, and nominal tenor Paul Hayes. He and Leah Benner were described as “voice.” Paul has a fine high baritone/low tenor voice. But when asked to solo a couple of B flats some years ago under a prior director, it was clear from practice it wasn’t going to work, and it didn’t. Here, Paul was directed to display his best.

Not to take anything away from the soprano soloists, who were note perfect, even powerful, but to my ear (hey, I’m the one writing the review) the best voice over there was Irie’s. It is not fair, her being not only a great violinist, and young and beautiful, and personally charming and modest, but on top of it, to give her the soprano solos would have been just too much, and I applaud Tim for spreading it around.

Jimmy Buffet was remembered with five of his greatest hits, and we got to stand and sing along with the last. I am sure Jimmy is saluting our peripatetic Michael Robinson for his sing-with-smiles respectful but creative arrangement. Keys Choral Arts. Bigger and better than ever, even marching eyes front.

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