“The panther is like a leopard, except it hasn’t been peppered. If you behold a panther crouch, prepare to say, ‘Ouch.’ Better yet, if called by a panther, don’t anther,” sang the 75-voice Santa Clara Chorale, opening its concert March 21 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, and March 22 at Mission Santa Clara.
It was hardly choral singing as usual for the all-volunteer, community chorale as it brought a menagerie of wildâ€”and a few not so wildâ€”animals to life in “Wild Things,” a 75-minute afternoon concert created to introduce children to choral music in an engaging way.
“Choral music has been going wild for centuries, and it seems that even for the most serious of composers, writing about animals gives them room to have a little more fun,” writes SCC artistic director Scot Hanna-Weir in the program notes.
“Wild Things” opened with three whimsical animal poems by poet Ogden Nash, set to music by Eric Whitacre in “Animal Crackers.” And the young children in the audience had better than front row seats. They sat on floor mats so close to Hanna-Weir that he could almost have stepped on them.
A duet between two soprano cats meowing with attitude almost stole the show. Sara Folchi and Gennifer Williams captivated the entire audience with their dueling “meows” in “Duetto buffo di due gatti, Miau” by Gioachino Rossini and Robert Lucas de Persall.
“Rejoice in the Lamb” by Benjamin Britten, the longest piece in the concert, gave voice to a mouse as “a creature of great personal valour” and “of an hospitable disposition.”
A tune about stewed prunes, from “Five Canzonets” by Jean Berger, was slipped in amongst the parade of animal songs.
“No matter how young a prune may be, he’s always full of wrinkles” and “…he’s always getting stewed,” sang the chorale.
“I followed all the words, and I thought they were hysterical,” says Sue Slavik from Cupertino at the Saturday concert. ‘Jabberwocky’ was a highlight for me.” Sam Pottle’s song about the mythical creature from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” was the program finale.
“I never knew a squirrel could be so engaging,” says Ron Paradies, president of the SCC Board of Directors, referring to “The Squirrel” by Powell Weaver, a solo organ piece popular during the silent movie era of the 1920s. Concert organist James Welch and pianist Dan Cromeenes accompanied the chorale.
“We’re trying to outreach to different audiences and bring light classical music to an audience that doesn’t hear it very often. For a young audience, it has to be fun,” says Paradies.
And fun it was for all. Nine-year-old Alida from Menlo Park was attending her first Santa Clara Chorale concert.
“It’s really fun to watch and listen and follow along with the songs. My favorite was “The green dog” (by Herbert Kingsley),” says Alida, adding,”I don’t have a dog and I don’t want one.”
Dan and Jennifer Tompkins, parents of five-year-old Ani and two-year-old Kai, agreed that “it was a wonderful way to get them loving this music in a fun way.”
“I have a three-year-old, and I wanted to create a program that would be okay for kids to come to but still with serious music. I looked really hard for pieces exciting for the choir to sing but accessible for an audience no matter how young or old,” says Hanna-Weir. “We were excited to see so many kids in the audience and how attentive they were.”
Both literally and figuratively, the Santa Clara Chorale’s “Wild Things” concert was truly the cat’s meow. And to top it off, at the end, everyone got animal crackers.
For its season finale, SCC will collaborate with Symphony Silicon Valley and the Santa Clara University Choral Program to present Mozart’s “Vespers” and Faure’s “Requiem,” May 16, 8 p.m., at Mission Santa Clara.