I was trying not to give away too many details of the show in advance in hopes people would come, but now that it's over I will describe it completely, trying to give those of you who couldn't come an idea of why everyone loved it so much. First, this was the poster & flyer text:
One is the All: A fully staged theatrical work portraying our human experience through story, movement and song. Featuring the world premiere of Stephen Schwartz's musical setting of "Keramos", a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Choreography and staging by Yvonne Farrow and Michael L. Nielsen. Don't miss this unique experience. Expect to be affected!
So, what does that really mean? It means outside of our day jobs we worked ourselves ragged rehearsing to put on a 90-minute fully-staged choral performance in the beautifully-restored home of Opera San Jose, the California Theatre in downtown San Jose. Even though I never saw the show from the audience's perspective, this is what I saw from on stage, plus our conductor's explanation of what else was happening.
The Choral Project show "One is the All" opens with the men humming behind a lowered scrim, while a drum punctuates each supertitle of the first three lines of the "Keramos" text. The scrim rises as the humming leads seamlessly into "Keramos", the world premiere by Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, several Disney films, among many other projects. "Keramos" was written specifically for The Choral Project, and fit in beautifully with the conductor's vision of "A Human Experience as Told Through Song" since the Longfellow poem Keramos addresses the shared human experience of birth, youth, aging and death, but reassures us we are all "made of the same clay." During "Keramos", which sounds like a potter's wheel continuously turning under each beautifully melodic verse, the choir moves in simple geometric formations, including a crescendo when the entire choir marches thrusting forward emphasizing the effect to connect with the audience.
By the end of "Keramos" in a blackout, the choir is in a standard choir formation upstage, leaving room for the male dancer to enjoy his youth during "De Punta Y Taco", a Chliean folk dance song arranged by the Swingle Singers that sounds like guitar accompaniment all generated by voices. At the final "Ole!" everyone's heads turn as the beautiful girl catches the youth's attention.
As the spotlight highlights the girl, she dances in the youth's fantasy to the choir singing "Dieu, qu'il la fait bon regarder!" (Lord, lovely thou hast made my dear!) by Debussy, ending in the same spotlight as he wakes up to reality again. During "Quisiera", a fun rhythmic Cuban courtship song, they both flirt and dance, ending in a kiss as the choir sings the final "Ah!" Unfortunately, the new lovers are parted by armies marching to drums and transition music from another verse of "Keramos." The armies march into place and perform the intricate and imposing choralography by Yvonne Farrow for "War Song", a Japanese composition inspired by authentic Maori war chants from the Cook Islands, ending with a final spear thrust in the dark.
The lovers search for each other as the choir voices their yearning by singing the lyrical and longing "So We'll Go No More A-roving" and "Come to Me, My Love." The choir moves into standard choir formation again, leaving room for the clear blue lake to reflect "The Bluebird" as the lovers finally find each other across the lake in a moment of pristine natural beauty. The choir moves in the dark to surround the lovers and sing "Fair and True" while the couple dances their betrothal. The couple leaves as the choir sings the uplifting song of the divine realized in each of us in community, "Turn the World Around."
As the second half opens, the choir is clustered in family groups behind the couple with their newborn child. "It Takes a Village" begins with the soloist taking the child from the couple and presenting the child before the village, then the village comes forward as they join in singing. The entire village surrounds and rocks the child together, ending in the child raised up as the village honors it in the spotlight. In the blackout the choir moves to surround the stage to sing the Irish folk song "The Gartan Mother's Lullaby" while the women and men take turns rocking the child to sleep. For "El Hambo," a parody of Scandinavian folk tunes, the choir plays behind the couple as they run and play with the now-5-year-old child.
As another verse of "Keramos" is sung by an octet, hard times fall on the family and their village as "Famine Song" begins. The choir weaves in and out of formation as they sing about weaving baskets to catch any possible water as they cry out to the sky and each other for rain to come. The village gradually separates as two women wail and writhe in agony and prayer with the couple. As the village weaves together and cries out for more rain, the couple travels around the village, getting older each time. By the final successful cry for rain, the woman has a shawl, the boy is a teenager, and the man has a cane, in very poor health from so many years of famine.
In the dark the choir moves upstage into choir formation as the family supports each other. "Let Evening Come" begins and the woman and youth help the man, bringing him a chair and helping him sit. As the choir sings "Let it come as it will / And don't be afraid / God does not leave us comfortless" the woman and youth notice the man is coughing and cannot stand any longer. After consoling his family who is at his side, he finally dies as the choir sings the final lyric "let evening come" and a white spotlight settles on him. His head drops on the final piano chord, and everyone on stage is looking at him while the choir begins "Musica animam tangens." The white spotlight remains focused where the woman and youth are grieving while the celestial music draws the man to rise to his feet. Confused and grieving for his family, he finally hears the glorious strains calling to him and turns to follow the blinding white light as the choir of angels parts to let him through the gates of the beyond.
One final wordless melody of "Keramos" brings the woman out of her grief at her husband's side to console her son as "Ubi Caritas" begins with the men singing the ancient Gregorian chant "Where there is charity and love, God is there. The love of Christ has gathered us together." The musical interlude shows the youth grieving his father then dancing offstage, leaving his mother to grieve her husband. A poignant dance of an old woman fondly remembering her husband and their life together leaves her exhausted again by grief, so she sits defeatedly in the chair center stage. As the music energizes, the choir parts as the man returns, now all dressed in white. Unseen by her but feeling his presence, the couple dance together again just as they did before, rejoicing in each other, as the women lovingly and reassuringly sing the Gregorian chant melody. The youth returns and consoles his mother as they leave the stage. The spirit of the man sees all will be well with his family left behind, so he gently blows them a kiss goodbye and leaves. To the clear notes of a recorder the youth returns alone, picks up his father's cane and dances just as his father did before him. The choir begins a joyful African Yoruba chant praising the ruler of the heavens, water, light and the resurrected soul as they process into concentric circles surrounding the youth. The ancient Gregorian and Yoruba chants intertwine together beautifully as the circles rotate, linked together in community by holding hands, until the final Alleluias everyone stands firmly in place with the son raised above them, all arms raised in praise of the next generation of the cycle of life.
We did get some good press for the show. We got covered in the local news magazine The Wave, with nice quotes by Jack:
"All For One: The Choral Project redefines the choir" by Michael J. Vaughn
We were also mentioned in the interview with Stephen Schwartz in the SJ Mercury News:
"A Q&A WITH STEPHEN SCHWARTZ - `Wicked' composer finds new voices - NOW HE'S COLLABORATING WITH THE CHORAL PROJECT IN S.J." by Richard Scheinin
As for my personal experience of this weekend...
My 90+ grandmother gets my personal award for longest distance traveled to this show, since she flew down from Seattle to Sacramento, then drove over with my parents Saturday morning. My first family overnight houseful in my own house! :) Since they wanted to get to bed but they didn't mind I was going to the after-party, I ran right offstage out into the lobby to find them so they could say hi & leave. I found my dad in line buying CDs, then my mom & grandmother finally made it out as my dad stood a ways away waiting for us, a head above the entire crowd. At 6'5" tall, he's always easy to spot. ;) My mom said that my non-musical dad (who has been known to fall asleep in loud big-band jazz concerts I've played!) was the first in their row to jump to his feet for the standing ovation. That's high praise! My mom & grandmother loved it too, saying it was like nothing they've ever seen before and VERY effective, with the choir and dancers so expressive. I think this is the first time my grandmother has seen me in official performance since I sang for my highschool graduation ceremony. ;)
Giant thanks to weaktwos & taogirl who drove 2+ hours from Sacramento to attend the Sunday concert! weaktwos posted last night saying we were "fantastic"...what I like to hear! Only one of my local non-Choral-Project singing friends came Saturday night, at great effort, leaving his new puppy in the car for the whole performance, but he & his girlfriend loved it! Another college friend came all the way from Davis, bringing his sister as well, but he only liked Keramos, saying he likes it better when we sing "older, more complicated pieces" and that the movement distracted from the choral experience...his sister agreed the Christmas concert she heard of ours she liked better...they were the ONLY people who said anything like that, including complete strangers to me! Ah well...they still did not regret coming, and since they did like Keramos (a completely brand-new world premiere, nor even really complicated piece, but the very beautiful, poetic, melodic, & quasi-minimalist/Philip Glass-ish piece Stephen Schwartz wrote especially for us), what I kept saying that "there is something for everyone in this show" still held true. ;)
I so thoroughly appreciate those who did come to the show! Thank you SOOO much for coming! I'm very glad they came, but I'm disappointed so many of my other friends were just too busy to come see a 90-minute show called "groundbreaking" & "revolutionary" let alone "fabulous" or "fantastic" by so many people...ah well...if we ever do take it on tour, then it will probably be too far away for the people who were too busy this time, but we'll see what happens. Maybe the DVD that is being made will give some inkling of how fabulous it was, even though the energy of live performance will always beat out recorded formats. Even though it sounds absolutely stunning, it's so not the same show just listening to the CD. When we recorded it for the CD, before we learned any choreography, I thought Famine Song was one of the less interesting pieces just to fill a slot in plot of the show, even though I really liked it personally & got to sing the duet, but with the movement & all our starvation agony on our faces, weaving choreography pattern on stage, plus my little wailing duet with Kristina, that was one of the favorite pieces of several people who saw the show! Kristina's father who was drumming & turning pages for the pianist told me "When you're weaving in Famine Song, you're headed directly for me, and each show I saw your face and said 'That girl is really starving!'" haha...
Even after all that, one of the best things from this weekend is this...Stephen Schwartz, composer of Keramos, came Friday night & was there Saturday. His personality is one who smiles & says "that's very nice" and isn't impressed by much, or at least doesn't go overboard with gushing...but he wouldn't quit gushing to our conductor after the dress preview on Friday! He brought his friend who is in charge of the Lincoln Center Festival who said, "This choir should be at the Lincoln Center." Stephen said it was absolutely amazing, like nothing he'd seen before and he's on the ASCAP board to review new works each quarter so he sees a lot that tries to be fresh & new, that we should take the show on tour, and we should definitely perform it in New York! Of course as Daniel told us this, he said he's going to ask Stephen if he could help us make all that happen, since we can't pay for all that ourselves for sure!
World-famous Stephen Schwartz and little ol' me at the Saturday night after-party at Eulipia
Nothing tops the energy of a live performance, especially of this show with so much of the effect in the staging, lighting & dancing, but if you were one of the many who missed the live performance, then buy the CD! I can't get you any discount anyway, so you might as well get it shipped directly to you! ;)