Like the catchy tunes they sung, vocal music students hit many highs and a few lows in the annual Southwestern College Pops Concert at Mayan Hall. Sometimes silly, but mostly sublime, SWC choirs joined forces for a Sunday afternoon stroll down a musical path through a rose garden both fragrant and thorny.
A mostly-female chamber singers ensemble performed “Call Me a Teenage Dream, Maybe!” arranged by B.J. Robinson. Its energy was high, but the choir’s nervousness was apparent in the forced smiles and stiff attempts to dance to the rhythm. Chamber Singer members awkwardly lumbered around on the stage to share the microphones and attempted to keep a smooth melody. Singers were enthusiastic but cramped, and teamwork surrendered to competition. Each performer was trying to outshine the other and at points the performance sounded chaotic.
Things improved when soloist Victoria Ortiz performed “Stupid Cupid” and hammed it up for the audience. Enthusiastically flirting with the crowd, Ortiz moved smoothly and was animated. The coquettish Ortiz enamored the toe tappers with her sheer charm.
As the Chamber Singers flooded the entire stage for its last song, a dreadful drum machine pumped out the beat to the 1980s hit “Footloose.” Its stale sound cheapened the choir’s best efforts. Despite the mechanical drumbeat, the Chamber Singers gave it a good effort. Members were enthusiastic and danced with each other, but to no avail. “Footloose” has been done to death and should be retired along with the drum machine.
The most intimate performance of the night was a duet featuring Sara Martinez and J.P. Acosta, members of the Jazz Vocal Ensemble. Singing “Stop This Train” by John Mayer, Martinez’s voice was soothing and beautifully subtle. She looked at Acosta as he picked at his guitar and he returned her gaze with a smile. His voice was a slightly higher pitch than Martinez’s, but together it sounded ethereal. It was easy to feel the importance of this song to the performers. Acosta and Martinez created a connection with the audience and made their performance much more meaningful.
Soloist Mitchell Horne had a tough act to follow, but he was up to the challenge. When he began to sing the walls and ceiling of crumbling Mayan Hall melted away, transporting the audience to a small jazz club. Horne sat on a stool and captured the audience in a way great performers do. Horne had a distinct voice, sounding like a cross between Elton John and Michael Bublé, singing jazz as though he already lived an entire lifetime.
It became nearly impossible to ignore the sheer talent that erupted once the Concert Choir took the stage. A powerful and epic performance of “Dies Irae” from “Requiem” by Giuseppe Verdi astounded the audience. It was inspiring to hear a song so revered and commanding performed so expertly at SWC. A forceful performance left members of the audience wide eyed in surprise.
Another astonishing number by the concert choir was “Gradual” from “Misa Azteca,” featuring soloist Michelle Courchaine, who sang in Nahuatl, an Aztec dialect, that made her sound like an indigenous angel. Her voice, so pure, clear and powerful, pierced the air like a church bell tolling at dawn on a clear Sunday. Courchaine took the entire concert to a transcendent level the audience was not expecting.
All three choirs crammed onto and in front of the stage to perform the U2 hit “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Unfortunately the effort to create a unifying song and showcase all of the talent lapsed into an overcrowded mess. Chamber Singers were trying to outshine jazz singers while the Concert Choir looked slightly bored while perched on the stands at the back of the stage. At points it sounded as if someone was beat boxing and one performer was dancing a bit too enthusiastically when she should have focused more on her singing.
Despite the chaos there was an enthusiasm and passion for music that every performer expressed to the best of their abilities. It was an afternoon filled with the love for music and SWC students reaching for beauty.