Led by director Ruth Wilson Francisco, the Southwest Singers will offer a unique and varied program ranging from Tin Pan Alley-inspired tunes to J.S. Bach on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church on Park Street in Cortez.
“Spring Zing” is the theme of this season’s show, and it will feature as its centerpiece a number of oldies from the 1930s and ’40s. Songs such as Harbor Lights, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, Moonlight Bay, and Red Sails in the Sunset were written by American composers who were heavily influenced by the songwriters coming out New York’s Tin Pan Alley in the early 20th century. These songs possess, explains Francisco, a distinctly American quality which includes harmonic experimentation that was fresh and new in their day. Today this music is nostalgic, yet still considered classic in the ever-evolving great American songbook.
Two big hits from 1957 and 1961 will also be part of the show: the lovely Almost Like Being in Love from the Lerner and Lowe classic musical, Brigadoon, and the blockbuster croon-tune, Moon River, by Henry Mancini, emblazoned on the heart of all who heard Andy Williams sing it or who watched Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Counterpoint to the American songbook will be an arrangement of Sheep and Lambs May Safely Graze from a famous chorale by J.S. Bach. This selection in particular, says the director, is the choir’s “growth piece.” Bach, often appearing deceptively simple on the surface, is deep water for any musician. Thickly layered texture with many moving parts and overlapping harmonies presents challenges for its singers and tying it into a unified whole is the challenge for the director. Traditionally accompanied by full orchestra, Southwest Singers will be accompanied on the organ by Joy Steffen.
Other highlights will include a Negro spiritual, Dry Bones, a piece once sung by the Choralaires of Cortez, and the Singers’ signature opening number, Dona Nobis Pacem. Additionally, there will be several women’s only numbers and a duet by brother/sister duo John Patton and Carol Orrell.
Capitalizing on the chamber choir format, Francisco appreciates the intimacy, flexibility, and maneuverability smaller choral groups can achieve. Echoing this sentiment, choir member Kathy Cottrell commented that she likes having “access to Ruth’s creative process. She is full of insight and articulates how to achieve certain goals in singing.”
So whether you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, a slice of American musical history, or a small but meaty portion of German church music, you’ll be able to find it all next weekend. The Southwest Singers hope to see you there and promise to put a spring in your step.
Wendy Watkins is owner and operator of S’more Music, LLC., a private Suzuki piano teaching studio. She can be reached at 565-4129.