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Good Male choruses are hard to find, and a touring group is a great rarity, so when the sixty plus members of Chor Leoni, directed by Diane Loomer, took the stage at the Rotary Arts Centre last Friday night, I felt we were in for a fine treat.
The opening of the programme was given over to what Ms. Loomer referred to as 'serious' music. Indeed it was. I gave a lot of thought during this time trying to put my finger on what was not quite tight, and what may have been causing this disparity. The ensemble singing was full and rich with some outstanding head tones from the First Tenors, well supported by the other three sections. Much of the singing was acapella, causing some minor intonation problems in the higher registers. I could only think that not all the voices were supporting the sound, and not getting to the centre of each note. Strangely, this was not the case in every song, so perhaps fatigue was a factor.
Throughout this first half the singers had some choreography; it seemed they were going through the motion, but were not really 'into it', even though the sound remained strong and balanced.
Also, during this time there was very little connection between the choir and the audience, partly because of their body language and their somber faces, and partly because the music was not memorized; many of the singers had their eyes glued to the score. It is impossible to gain any sort of rapport with an audience this way. At times they seemed to be very dependant on the score. I am being rather critical here, expecting a Choir of their caliber to have taken care of these things. We all know how difficult it is to sing off book, but many groups do so, to their credit. Even when they performed 'Puttin‚Äô On The Ritz' their choreography seemed stiff.
After intermission, with a change of costume and music, Chor Leoni began to show just how very talented they are. It was almost like a different group. They were relaxed and happy looking. It was good to see their faces and eyes, for most of the singers were off book. It made them come alive and would have been even better if all the singers were at that level of learning.
Much of their repertoire is Canadian and/or arranged by Canadians, a philosophy which must be applauded.
We were treated to rollicking cowboy songs, traditional music, nonsense songs, children's songs and some standard repertoire. This was where the group came into its own. Most of them shed their books; they all looked happy and connected with the audience. Several outstanding soloists shared their talents, keeping to the style of that particular music, with strong support from the Men.
Throughout the evening there was no lack of subtle phrasing, dynamic variations and fine male choral sound. When this was coupled with their looser, more relaxed bearing, the effect was magical.
To emphasize the change in the group, they performed a reprise of 'Puttin' On The Ritz'. It was hard to believe it was the same group. They came alive and played off each other to the delight of the audience.
As an encore they flawlessly sang a great arrangement of 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand'. It was full of rich harmonies, a perfectly blended choral sound and fine musicianship, prompting a second standing ovation.
Marvin Dickau is an Organist, Pianist and Conductor who has an A.Mus from the University of Alberta.He has conducted choirs and small orchestras, given solo piano and organ recitals and accompanied many singers and instrumentalists in Kelowna and Calgary