They came. They sang. They conquered.
San Diego Sings! Festival 2015, promoted as a massed chorus of 1,000 voices, brought together some 20 San Diego area choirs at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion Saturday (March 21) to perform “How Can I Keep from Singing?” a choral fantasy by Bradley Nelson commissioned for this unique event.
Patrick Walders, Director of Choral Studies at San Diego State University, bravely conducted the battalion of singers that covered the stage of the Organ Pavilion and spilled onto the audience level below. Two large childrens choirs added to Nelson’s choral texture.
Opening with a grand organ fanfare that boldly exploited the sonic roar of Spreckels Organ, the adult singers then announced the familiar hymn—Robert Lowry’s mid-nineteenth century “How Can I Keep from Singing?”—in noble cadences and developed its main theme contrapuntally. After the sweet, clear children’s voices had their turn with the theme, the adults rejoined them, and even the audience was asked to reprise the hymn’s first stanza in unison.
In the spirited middle section, Nelson crafted a fugue on a contrasting theme that reminded me of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” and he concluded the work with with a bold restatement of the hymn in rich, dense chords that took full advantage of the huge choral assembly.
If Nelson’s essentially tonal idiom seemed to resurrect the cheerful 1950s style of Randall Thompson, he did provide the organ part with some welcome harmonic complexity, which former Civic Organist Jared Jacobsen executed with conviction and welcome clarity.
Kudos to Walders, perched on a perilous stepladder below the stage, for pulling these disparate forces
together and leading them with such apparent ease and good humor. In the latter category, I should report that before starting the piece, he pulled out his cell phone and took a selfie with the massed choir in the background.
This day-long event offered 15-minute programs by each of the participating ensembles, a panoply of nearly every type of choral groups, both amateur and professional, religious and secular, all men and all women, gay and straight: a tribute to the healthy state of choral singing in the county. They are listed in the program below.
Carol Manifold’s Choral Consortium of San Diego provided the festival’s leadership and organization, with assistance from the Spreckels Organ Society. This event proved a worthy sequel to the New Year’s Eve festival at the Organ Pavilion that launched Balboa Park’s year-long centennial observance.