Concert review: ‘From Sorrow to Joy’ lifts spirits |

Concert review: ‘From Sorrow to Joy’ lifts spirits

— It’s barely mid-November and it seems winter already has taken charge. Although we have seasonal delights to look forward to, many of us are in shock and could use something to lift our spirits. Luckily during the holidays, there is a series of concerts featuring splendid, uplifting music. Each year it seems to start earlier, is of ever-higher quality, and is increasingly indispensable. The first for this year, the choral concert “From Sorrow to Joy,” performed during the weekend, addresses our malaise perfectly.

Each of the 12 choral pieces was introduced with the recitation of a short selection from world literature. The chorus was accompanied by a series of photographs displayed on a screen above the choir. Multimedia presentations of this sort are not new, but this was the first we felt really worked, thanks largely to the excellent choice and quality of the pictures.

The first choral piece, a transcription of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” was introduced with a selection from The Haggadah that ended: “He has brought us up from slavery, from sorrow to joy.” It established the theme of the concert. During this magnificent piece, we watched first a sunrise over the Earth, viewed from space, then a hurricane over the Atlantic, a wall of clouds on the edge of a tempest, then the ensuing devastation.

Then a chorus of women sang only “Kin to Sorrow,” a plaintive piece by Stephen Paulus, introduced with a selection from Rilke, and accompanied by pictures of sad women, such as Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait of a woman in the Dust Bowl.

Next we heard “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace; Sanctus/Benedictus” by Karl Jenkins, accompanied by war scenes, during which John Sant’Ambrogio played a hauntingly beautiful solo on his cello.

The tempo picked up with “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” Guest soloist Carmen Marie Coleman added an electric touch while we watched walls, such as the Berlin Wall, being demolished.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” though martial, is triumphant; it was introduced with selections from Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address), Rumi, and Dillinger, who expressed the sentiment of human unity. The photos were of incandescent gas clouds and galaxies in space.

We then heard two more peaceful pieces, John Rutter’s “Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace” based on a prayer of Saint Francis, and “The Beatitudes.” The latter was accompanied by Jan Fritz on the church’s pipe organ.

These peaceful works were followed by a quote from the Dalai Lama and a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as arranged by Aretha Franklin and accompanied by the cantatrici Cheryl Hardy-Moore, Lucy Middleton and Jody Condie, with piano/organ by Paul Potyen.

Introduced with a selection from John Lennon’s “Imagine, nothing to kill or die for, world will live as one,” was our personal favorite “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” by Dolly Parton. The soloist, Anna Jones, was superbly evocative of eternal optimism with her clear projection. Accompaniment was by Andy Schaffner on piano and Katie Rasmussen on recorder.

Next was perhaps everyone else’s favorite — the Emerald Mountain Youth Chorus led by Keri Rusthoi, with Cash Globe and Kyle Kounovksy on xylophone, singing “Peace on Earth, and Lots of Little Crickets.” This charming song recounts how the care of a cricket, because crickets bring good luck, led to a proliferation, which we saw on screen, until they needed to be given away to friends and even enemies.

We were then reminded by Mahatma Gandhi that the war on war begins with the care of children, as we heard “For the Sake of Our Children” by Jeffrey Ames. This is a prayer: “Oh God, save the children; shelter them with your loving arms.” The chorus sang the entire libretto and then Sant’Ambrogio played a long, lovely cello solo.

The last piece was appropriately Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” arranged by Joseph Becker and Mervyn Warren. This piece started as originally composed, but then Carmen shifted to a faster tempo with a solo prayer. The piece concluded with the audience joining in and clapping in rhythm as they visually followed the screen’s English wording: “Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life.”

Triumph describes this concert perfectly. While wholeheartedly a community effort, our appreciation goes mostly to director Marie Carmichael for her vision, knowledge and lofty standards. Since conceiving the project a year ago, she has steadily worked for six months on its innumerable components. The inclusion of a few very difficult works required a deliberate strategy of exacting discipline and extended encouragement for her amateur chorus. While other concerts often have been sponsored by a local arts or college group, “From Sorrow to Joy” was indeed fortunate to have its own producer, master pianist, musicologist and chorus director — our local impresario, Marie Carmichael.

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