Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘America Sings XIV’ covers a musical landscape in De Pere

Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College America Sings cover_1556978117446.jpg.jpg

When an “Under New Management” sign is tacked up, of course things are going to be different… at least somewhat.

So it is with the first “America Sings” program by the region’s notable choral group fully without its namesake – The Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College.

The hundredsomething-voice chorale’s 14th such concert will be repeated today.

Here are thoughts on Friday’s concert in Walter Theatre in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts on campus.

The concept remains the same: Familiar music by American creators is sung, and members of the chorale have the opportunity to solo. In the formal parts of its seasons, the chorale performs serious sacred or secular works, often masterworks of a large scale.

The artistic director/conductor has changed. Dudley Birder, 92, conducted two selections in last year’s “America Sings” as his farewell to performing. His chosen successor, Kent Paulsen, conducted the rest of that program. Friday, the reins were fully in Paulsen’s hands. So things were different.

Different includes arrangements – usually with piano and drums – of songs by stellar creators in the rock/popular music realm. Toto is more than the name of a dog trotting a yellow brick road. Queen is something other than the ruler of England. Songs by the groups Toto and Queen are opportunities for soloists from the chorale to step out and try whole new paths of singing for the chorale. Toto’s “Africa” opens with the use of the chorale as an instrument in special ways. With singers in growing waves rubbing hands together, patting their bodies and snapping fingers, an aural illusion of falling rain is created. And then the singing starts, “drawing” images of the African landscape. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (revived by the motion picture biography of showman Freddie Mercury) is a handsome soundscape of extreme sadness. Listeners are caught up in the beauty. (Shhh, don’t say Queen is not American; think that Americans sing Queen’s songs).

Also new to the “America Sings” scene was “Seasons of Love,” a song from the edgy Broadway musical “Rent.”

When speaking to the audience, Paulsen called the program “a buffet” that is meant to “exemplify all the varieties of American music.”

The program covers traditional, spiritual/gospel/hymn, Broadway, movie and popular/rock genres with settings for a large chorus. Generally, the material is not as tricky as the multi-layered works the chorale digs into in the serious parts of its season (roll over Beethoven). Snapshot: In “Singin’ in the Rain,” many singers smile and bob heads with the music, and the conductor dances on the podium.

The songs are familiar and in, to use film imagery, Cinemascope and SurroundSound, with singing by lifelong lovers of singing.

The concert features 17 soloists. Most have occupations other than music, music, music. So one of the attractions of this concert is seeing regular folks have a go at what they love in front of a lot of people. Generally, they deliver.

Friday, there was an 18th soloist. Isaiah Schmitz, a junior at St. Francis Xavier High School in Appleton, is this year’s awardee of The Robert and Carol Bush Award. The award (the Bushes presented it Friday) encourages excellence in high school choral music. Schmitz is the first recipient to have sung with the chorale all season. He soloed in “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha,” launching it with color and gusto. His solo was designed to be sung only on Friday as part of the award presentation. By rights, and the fact that the audience response was one of the most enthusiastic of the night, Schmitz should be tapped to repeat his solo.

Friday, Paulsen mentioned that he was dedicating his performance to the memory of the high school choral teacher who inspired him, Jeff Krause. From the obituary of Jeffrey Robert Krause, who taught for 36 years at Wausau East High School and died Jan. 4, 2019, this:

“His impact on literally thousands was profound and lasting! Jeffrey was a gifted musician playing the organ and piano at numerous churches and for community musical events over the years. Jeff was more than a teacher to his students; many of his students became dear and life-long friends. Jeff’s passion, talent, and the integrity with which he taught inspired many.

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Remaining performance: 2 p.m. May 4

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Info: snc.edu/tickets

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Program

Kent Paulsen, artistic director and conductor

Elaine Moss, piano and assistant director

Additional musicians: Cody Borley, drums; keyboard Emily Sculliuffo, Craig Sampo, Jr., Elissa Ribbens

Soloists’ names include program description in parentheses

Part I

+ “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” Irving Berlin, arranged by Roy Ringwald

+ “How Great Thou Art,” adapted by Stuart Hine, arranged by Dan Forrest

+ “Seasons of Love” from “Rent,” Jonathan Larson, arranged by Roger Emerson – soloists: Laura Nehlsen (French teacher), Nick Selinsky (medical records specialist, Green Bay Oncology), Cassidy Heim-Dittmer (real estate professional)

+ “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (aka “Navy Hymn”), John Dykes and William Whiting, arranged by Dan Forrest

+ “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season),” Pete Seeger, arranged by Roger Emerson – soloist: Sarah Doyle (customer account management, TreeHouse Foods)

+ “Africa,” David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of the band Toto, arranged by Roger Emerson – soloists: Robert Tuszyinski (SVP Financial Services Bank of Luxemburg), Jon Weiss (physical therapist, Bellin Health), Chris Zimmermann (retired assistant professor physical therapy, Concordia University Wisconsin)

+ “Feel the Spirit” (traditional spirituals), arranged by John Rutter

   “I’ve got a robe” – soloist: April Strom-Johnson (trainer/teacher)

   “Ev’ry time I feel the spirit” – soloist: Linda Feldmann (St. Norbert College faculty)

   “Deep River” – soloist: Tasha Fischer (mother and student)

   “When the saints go marching in” – including audience sing-along

Part II

+ “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Freddy Mercury, arranged by Mark Brymer – soloist: Justin Noffsinger (fabricator, Thermal Technologies)

+ “Amazing grace!” John Newton, arranged by Mack Wilberg

+ “Fiddler on the Roof” medley, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, arrange by Ed Lojeski – soloists: Amy Van De Hey (piano teacher, Heid Music), Craig Sampo, Jr. (Heid Music. St. Norbert College student), Pam MacMullen (retired), Tom Hamilton (retired)

+ “Shenandoah,” traditional, arranged by Mack Wilberg

+ “Singin’ in the Rain,” Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, arranged by Mac Huff

+ “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Paul Simon, arranged by Kirby Shaw – soloists: Marsan M. Day (in-home recovery professional, Lutheran Social Services), Emily Terrell Paulsen (wife of the Maestro)

+ “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” to the tune of “John Brown’s Body,” lyrics by Julia W. Howe, arranged by Peter J. Wilhousky – including audience sing-along

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NEXT SEASON (so far): “All Saints and Veterans Day Concert,” Oct. 25, St. Norbert College Walter Theatre; “Holiday Pops,” Dec. 20-21, Weidner Center for the Performing Arts.

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THE VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My seven books are available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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