Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 24
 
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
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Music/Theater

Princeton Girlchoir Closes Season With Tribute to Americana Aided by Dulcimer Music

Nancy Plum

In recent years, the Princeton Girlchoir's spring concerts have been packed to overflowing in Richardson Auditorium. This year, the ensemble wisely relocated its popular closing performance to the Patriots Theater in the Trenton War Memorial. Sunday afternoon's concert in the Theater was a very full house, indicating that moving the performance to Trenton was the right thing to do. The Girlchoir chose Americana as the theme of this concert, featuring a potpourri of American choral arrangements, as well as an icon of American folk and bluegrass music — hammered dulcimer performer and composer Malcolm Dalglish.

A former student at the American Boychoir School, Malcolm Dalglish transferred his classical musical training to the hammered dulcimer, pushing the range of the instrument well past the bluegrass genre with which it has always been associated (it is interesting to note that Westminster Choir College classically trained America's other leading hammered dulcimerist — Lucille Reilly). Mr. Dalglish's arrangements for chorus and dulcimer have been performed and recorded by choruses nationwide, and in collaborating with ensembles, Mr. Dalglish electrifies choristers and shows them how to think outside the bar lines.

As has always been customary, the Princeton Girlchoir concert worked its way from the youngest choristers up, beginning with the 50-voice Grace Notes, conducted by interim director Emily Capece. Ms. Capece chose three jazzy numbers to show off her singers, and the chorus made a good amount of sound for the hall. When split into two parts, the ensemble sang well without pressing on the low notes, and the unison sound was open and free. The chording in Susan Brumfield's arrangement of "Old Dan Tucker" was especially good, and Ms. Capece gave the impression of being an energetic conductor with a fresh approach to training her choristers.

Rebecca Elpus has directed the Girlchoir's Semi Tones for several years, and her work has just been rewarded by an invitation to bring the chorus to next spring's regional conference of the American Choral Director's Association, where they will sing for several thousand people. Ms. Elpus borrowed soloist Hannah Epstein from the Girlchoir Alumnae Cantores for her performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Gloria Tibi" (taken from Mass), and soloist and chorus kept the tempo moving along with solid singing. Ms. Elpus was also able to demonstrate well-sung chords in another Susan Brumfield arrangement, that of a Creole folksong "Salangadou."

The most precise of the Girlchoir's Concert Choir singers move to the PGC Ensemble, conducted by Girlchoir founder Jan Westrick. In the four Aaron Copland works performed by the Ensemble and the Concert Choir, Ms. Westrick drew a full rich sound from the choristers, with an especially clean alto sound on "Chin-a-Ring Chaw." All four of these numbers are staples of treble choir repertoire, and they were performed animatedly.

The Alumnae Cantores, conducted by Bryce Hayes, chose three songs with a storyline. Although the sound took a while to settle in the first number, the harmonies changed well in the a cappella sections. A very nice horn solo was provided by Nathan Odhner in James Mulholland's "Heart We Will Forget Him."

All ensembles joined Mr. Dalglish and his percussionist, Scott Robinson, in various combinations for the second half of the concert, performing a number of Dalglish arrangements intermingled with improvisations by the instrumentalists. Mr. Dalglish is a master of a number of instruments, including spoons and bones, and Mr. Robinson was a virtual one-man percussion band, strapping rattles to his feet and playing several drums. Mr. Dalglish's dulcimer playing tended to be streams of flowing notes effectively played with a light touch. The dulcimer lost a bit of its acoustic effect with the use of a microphone, but when played in the upper registers, rang through the hall. Mr. Dalglish showed an unusual side of the instrument in his own arrangement of "Throw the Window Open," as he plucked and strummed strings, played on the bridges of the instrument and bent the pitch, as well as throwing in a bit of overtone singing. The dulcimer is tailor-made for reels and jigs, and Mr. Dalglish and Mr. Robinson made the most of several of these, joined by fiddler Barbara Greenberg. The numbers performed with chorus fully demonstrated the singers' enjoyment of the whole experience.

The concert closed with the traditional 9th grade musical tribute and farewell to Ms. Westrick and the customary Finale — John Rutter's "The Lord Bless You and Keep You." When another year closes at the Princeton Girlchoir organization, the staff and choristers can take pride in the work accomplished and the effect it has had on these girls of all ages.

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