Chorus festival exhibits talents

Groups share skills in choir performance

Denis Perez / The Advocate

By Roxana Amparo, Editor-in-Chief

Dressed in long black and red dresses, 22 young women from Albany High School performed three ensembles accompanied by piano during the Invitational Chorus Festival on Thursday, held in the Performing Hall inside the Music Building.

“Today is about sharing music. I know that you have worked extremely hard. We really are about each individual,” music department Chairperson Wayne Organ said. The event had both a.m. and p.m. sessions.

As part of the morning session, three choir groups performed. Skyline High School, Pinole Valley High School and the Contra Costa Singers showcased their talents from 9 a.m. to noon.

The afternoon program, held 1:30-4:30 p.m., featured two choir groups from Albany High School, one from American Canyon High School and Contra Costa College’s JAZZ-ology singing group.

The director of vocal and choral studies, Buddy James, from Cal State-East Bay, sat at the back of the room listening attentively during the student performances.

After each performance, Dr. James would come to the front of the room to share his comments and ask questions.

As director of vocal and choral studies, James focused on the technicalities and slight details of each performance.

After the first group from Albany High School performed,  James began his first public lesson.

“Could you tell which of these songs they (Albany High School, Group II) liked the most?” James asked the crowd of choir singers, professors and parents.

Each group of choir performers had its own choirmaster, a person who directs the performance of the choir from beginning to end.

James usually stood at the back of the room while the performers waited for directions.

He gave up and down and left to right hand gestures almost as if he felt the music.

The “Zeal Lullaby” by Eric Whitacre was one of the songs performed by Albany High School, Group I.

“I want to know what happens when the sun goes down,” James said, referring to a piece of “Zeal Lullaby.” “The vast majority (of the singing) is ‘oooo.’ And even that carried more meaning than the words,” he said.

As the choir group sang certain words slower or faster, as directed by James, the sound from the choir group noticeably changed.

“There is a story there. I want to know — when you sing it that way — I want to know what’s going to happen. Because things happen when the sun goes down. You set the stage,” James said to the Albany High School choir, Group I.

He chose parts of the songs to demonstrate how making a slight change in dynamic, either by slowing down the tempo or adding more emphasis on a certain part of the song, would make a difference in the overall performance.

Albany resident Emiko Susilo said, “It’s not just about the teaching of little technical things. 

“It’s deeper than that. It’s about his (James) understanding and his love for music. He is so loving and supportive. He is like a mentor who gives feedback, not in a mean way, but in a supporting way.”

Susilo said she came to see her daughter perform, who was part of Albany High School’s Group I. Albany High School, Group I was comprised of 21 chamber singers.

After they performed three songs, James said, “I hear your set of music as being essentially two pop songs and then a more classical composition.”

One of the songs Albany High School Group I performed is “Duerme Negrito,” which translates to “Sleep, Little Black Boy” by Argentine singer, songwriter and guitarist Atahualpa-Yupanqu in the arrangement of  Emilio Solé.

James said it is a pop song in South America, in Argentina, from not too long ago.

The song tells the story in form of a lullaby to a young boy. A little boy’s mother goes to work in the fields without pay and leaves her son with a neighbor who is trying to put him to bed.

In the song, the neighbor sings to the boy, “Sleep, sleep little black boy, for your mama is in the field, little black boy.”

James had the lead singer of the group, Mili, visualize she was singing a lullaby to a baby.

“Mili, I want you to visualize the baby. It’s a lullaby,” he said.

After the group ended its open singing lesson, James said, “Does this makes sense, choir? Because it makes the music come to life in a really different way that you can obviously tell. Great work. Congratulations.”

American Canyon High School brought 43 immaculately dressed students in black and white.

The young women with long black dresses and the men with black and white tuxedos. 

After all three groups were showcased, CCC’s 10-person ensemble JAZZ-ology, led by music professor Stephanie Austin, performed for the crowd.

After the choir performances were over, singers had the chance to go to workshops to learn from James.