A small group of intrepid music lovers, undeterred by snow and cold, gathered Sunday afternoon at the Methodist Church to warm themselves from the inside out with seasonal music from the Southwest Singers, a chamber choir led by Ruth Wilson Francisco. Though "Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind," the thoughtful program was warmly received.
In a season where holiday music is ubiquitous, it is easy to overdo some of the classics. Fortunately, this program featured many lesser-known Christmas tunes. Opening the show was Dona Nobis Pacem, sung (and hummed) a cappella. It was quickly followed by a lively Jubilate Deo, which launched a well-paced selection of songs.
Helping to make the program fresh yet familiar were selections such as Christmas Cometh Caroling, Mary Had a Baby, and Gesu Bambino. In Christmas Cometh Caroling, the singers tackled some difficult harmonic progressions that led us to unexpected places, and in Gesu Bambino there was some wonderful blending.
Clearly, the director Ruth Wilson Francisco, has spent a great deal of time working with her ensemble in blending voices so that stronger voices do not overtake quieter ones. One of the goals in chamber singing, indeed in most choral singing, is to achieve a oneness of voice that diminishes individual voices and creates an enlarged sound that is greater than the sum of its parts. This can only happen once everyone is listening to one another and working toward a homogeneous quality sculpted by its director. Overall, Southwest Singers was effective in achieving this aim.
The ensemble also did a laudable job at articulating the lyrics and ending their phrases together, most of the time. But their particular strength lay in their ability to sing sotto voce, softly. This was noted in Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella, and Mary Had a Baby, which also featured a fine soprano solo from Pamela Wilderson. But it was especially apparent during the lilting Gesu Bambino in which the music shimmered.
An all-female rendition of Winter Wonderland displayed good phrasing and breath control and showcased the director as soloist. Mel Torme's timeless Christmas Song rounded out the performance in a richly harmonized rendition of the favorite and provided a solid backdrop for Mike Shelton's tenor solo.
Although the group has only two male voices, there was rarely a sense of something missing. The two worked together beautifully to add depth to the female voices without oversinging. Credit goes to the singers and to choral directing.
Credit also goes to the accompaniment by Joy Steffen on piano who, while keeping an eye on the director, modulated her tempo and dynamics well and never overpowered the singers.
Wilson invites community members to give choral singing a try. All voices are welcome. The Southwest Singers meet Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the choir room at the Methodist Church on Park Street. They resume rehearsals for their next season on Jan. 27.
Wendy Watkins is owner and operator of S'more Music LLC., a private Suzuki piano studio in Cortez. She can be reached at 565-4129.