Review: Winter Choral Concert hits the right notes

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It isn’t Christmas on the Bonita Mesa until the Winter Choral Concert serenades the holidays and gives a little joy to the world.

Southwestern College’s rough but hopeful 2012 was shown the door by a rough but inspiring showcase of seasonal songs performed by the SWC Concert Choir, Chamber Singers and Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Student voices soared and reached for a little holiday magic, which made up for some awkward student bodies which often looked reluctant to move.

SWC’s Jazz Vocal Ensemble warmed up the audience with some roasting chestnuts. Soloist Stacey Barnett performed “Early Autumn” with such warmth you could almost hear a crackling fire. A gifted young singer-musician, Barnett has become an SWC treasure.

Director Dr. Terry Russell and Tracy Burklund had the voices well prepared. Stage presence, however, was another matter.

One stumble was “Two Weeks,” a contemporary song by the band Grizzly Bear. It initially excited the audience with its change in mood, but the four soloists struggled to the find the blend. Strong musicians saved the day. Juan Medina on percussion, Chris Murillo on bass and instructor David Castel De Oro on piano drove an upbeat mood an provided a musical safety net.

Otherwise, the vocalists were clear as a starry winter night. Soloists Nicky Garcia and Alex Lira were captivating on “Body and Soul” and the combined Chamber Singers sparkled on “Can’t Stop the Music” and “Sparklejollytwinklejingly.” Both were high-energy celebrations of the holidays that put smiles on the audience’s faces.

Soloist Andra Cason took on “Take My Breath Away” and took the audience’s breath away.

There was a fight for space on a small stage that limited choreography and crowded singers like an electronics sale on Black Friday. Stumbling choreography was most evident in the Chamber Singers’ performance of the Adele megahit “Rollin’ in the Deep.” Swinging limbs creased performers’ faces with worry and distress, detracted from the number. Audience members were better off closing their eyes to hear sublime voices and not watch the subpar movement.

To end the night the SWC Concert Choir performed “Gloria” the way it was intended, with passion, reverence and joy. Winter’s chill was no match for the singer’s warmth.

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