Choir delves into the American songbook

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Review by Geoff Goddard

Any organisation that does what it has always done will always get the same results.

That way lies stagnation and the eventual disenchantment of the members of that organisation – so it was really good that Market Rasen and District Choral Society, conducted by Jeffrey Blewett, decided to put on a concert of unfamiliar American music.

In doing so they set themselves a terrific challenge – and one which they managed to pull off in much of their presentation.

Some of the works were relatively straightforward, especially the Four American Folk Hymns. These were originally arranged for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by Mack Wilberg and were full of big sounds, good rhythms and harmonies – nice to listen to.

The final pair were rousing affairs with the organ as accompaniment, played first by Jo Johnston and then by Simon Cole.

Music from Two Old American Song Books by Aaron Copland was the big feature of the concert. Copland was one of the big stars of American music in the 20th century and did not make his reputation by writing easy music.

For a choir, his works are difficult. They are full of odd harmonies, sudden key changes and rhythmic patterns that keep shifting. The music was often at the extreme end of the range of the voice and really stretched the choir to provide a convincing sound.

In other words, the music contained everything designed to trap the unwary singer and conductor. In most cases the choir got to grips with these two song books very well, aided by the piano accompaniment of Emma Radwell to keep them on track.

Of the two song books, the one I most enjoyed was the second – some very exciting music there.

When the choir had the confidence to really sing out it was splendid, but at times it was possible to tell that they were not quite sure where they were going next. As a result, the tuning slipped a bit and some entries were somewhat tentative.

Having said that, the overall impression was that the society has continued to make progress and I think they have gained a lot from the hard work required in rehearsals.

To give the choir a rest, we were treated to a large selection of close harmony songs from the group Fourum which, as its name suggests, consists of four men.

Accompanied by Yvonne Ellis on the piano, they gave a varied performance of this type of music which was appreciated by the audience.

For their next concert on May 12, 2012, the choral society will need to rise to a fresh challenge, when they tackle two works by local composers John Gladwin and Rowland Lee.