As the full and devoted audience settled in for ‘Music: A Mirror of Our Humanity‘ on Saturday, November 15, local visual artist Kaleeka Bond prepared her palette to the jovial sounds of audience whispers, chatting, laughter. Founding artistic director and conductor Dr. Iris S. Levine proudly informed the audience that this was Vox Femina‘s 18th season kick-off concert, and introduced the program as an attempt at asking the questions, “How do we see music? How do we see ourselves, and how do we respond to situations?” She shared her perspective on the concert, on war, conflict and beauty as we strive to create a better world, including her own battle with cancer. It was a lovely sentiment, and was felt in the selections performed.
Though the program page was difficult to follow with the changing fonts and sizes of text, the program notes were quite useful and well placed. They offered a lovely road map to follow, and Ms. Bond captured the sounds as visual images evoked throughout the course of the evening’s sonorous journey onto a canvas. The combination offered an unusual and multi-faceted experience, and added an element of intrigue.
The sanctuary at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles is an ominous space that brings to mind the old churches of Europe which, when filled with music, spin and swirl into cacophonous simplicity. The first piece, How can I Keep From Singing arr. by Karen P Thomas, managed to capture this quality quite well. Though individual voices could be deciphered, this piece brought out a unison of individuality uniquely experienced in this venue. We moved on to a sentimental There will Come Soft Rains by Kevin A Memley, which ends with sound of fingers snapping, depicting the falling rain. These sounds drew earth tones from the artist’s palate, and her painting began to take on a decidedly human shape.
As we journeyed further on reflections of wars past, Reflections from Yad Vashem by Daniel J Hall, sang of the Holocaust. It was a haunting lullaby, like a memory — a beautiful exploration of the female voice, richly expressed and contrapuntally explored. When the names of child victims were sung in Hebrew, there was a feeling of evoking something ancient and the phrase “never forget” came to mind. They have been remembered here.
How does one develop a tribute to the fallen? Ola Gjeilo‘s The Ground was a lyrical piece that was quite peaceful, but it lacked a perspective. Thematically, I loved the placement of Ysaye M. Barnwell‘s arr. of There is a Balm in Gilead. After such devastating loss, this searching for peace and understanding depicted yearning and belief in finding purpose quite well.
The detail in our painting had taken shape at the point, as darker shading, movement and watercolor dripped down the canvas with honesty, almost as tears.
The most evocative depiction of the evening to this point was heard in Abbie Betinis‘s piece Be Like the Bird. Though simply a canon, it expressed that kind of uncertainty in a time of trial and it was sung quite well. Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Paul Caldwell & Sean Ivory was another sentimental piece that has a place in this type of program. It’s lovely, but there was nothing in it that seemed to move us forward, unless it was the lyrics, which were undecipherable in this space. The first half of the concert ended with Brian Holmes’ I Shall Keep Singing!, which included some very interesting vocal tone painting.
After intermission, we began a new section entitled: “Reflections of Promise” with Philip E. Silvey‘s Realm of Possibility. Jerry Garvin’s french horn sounded as a call to action, impressive on such a challenging instrument. This Emily Dickinson poem did in fact feel set to expound upon the theme in an honest way: rarely overly sentimental, and quite expansive.
Help Somebody arr. by Steve Milloy was described in the program notes as a jazz and a revivalist fusion. I definitely heard the evocation of the Spiritual, and the balance of the choir was quite nice. Their unison singing at a mezzo forte to forte was quite strong and quite together.
We moved to the next section of the evening’s theme, “Community”, with One with the Wind, a piece commissioned from composer David O which was truly written for Vox Femina. It evoked some of the most fun, dynamic and interesting possibilities of women’s a cappella singing, with unique sounds, thematic development, featured singing, strong middle voices, rhythmic pulsation and canonic writing.
Looking again at the artwork in progress, the piece had “become something”, and no longer felt influenced by the specific music being expressed — it was now something fully formed.
Soprano soloist Caroline McKenzie sang as an open vessel in Joan Szymko‘s, River. I appreciated her fresh perspective and voice in a piece which attempted to help us feel something very acute. Again, the unison sections are really quite lovely with this group, particularly in Milloy’s What Have You Done to Lift Someone Up?, where the choir members really seemed to listen to each other.
The final number of the evening was Pat Humphries‘ Never Turning Back. It was by far my favorite of the evening, not because of the piece itself, but because of the elements of community involvement, which is a part of Vox’s stated mission. Dr. Levine invited a group of women from Crossroads, a Los Angeles halfway house, to join the group on stage. About a dozen brave women came up, some shy, some happy, all with experience in their countenances. Some of them struggled to sing. But as the song progressed, and the theme of “we’ll keep on walking forward” repeated, looks of belief and hope seemed to enter their eyes and they began to sing. The faces of these women showed that they had lived this journey, and perhaps that’s why Dr. Levine had them sing. May we all keep walking forward.
The artwork created by Ms. Bond during this concert will be auctioned in April of 2015.
Corrected 12/4/14 – contact the editor if you have any questions.