MUSIC REVIEWS: Chimes of Christmas and IU Philharmonic
Enthusiastic response to Chimes
December 7, 2012
Fans packed the IU Auditorium Wednesday evening for the annual “Chimes of Christmas” show, this time and for the first time packaged and prepared by the new director of the Singing Hoosiers, Steve Zegree. A lively event it was.
There was no Wind Ensemble on this occasion but, instead, the Brent Wallarab Big Band. Carl Lenthe’s Trombone Choir was back to welcome folks as they entered the theater lobby. Organist William Bryant provided pre-concert music that started softly and built, by show time, into bombastic and celebratory climaxes. On stage, along with the Singing Hoosiers, Zegree welcomed a Singing Hoosiers Band and a quartet of Singing Hoosiers Horns, along with two oomph-laden sing-and-dance groups, the newly formed IU Vocal Jazz Ensemble and a delightfully bouncy community flock of 14 girls called Syncopation.
Though the results of their collective efforts were most surely reflective of the season, the feel, the aura and the sound differed from years past. Retired director Michael Schwartzkopf tended to choose traditional holiday fare from across the centuries, along with music from Broadway and films. His manner on stage, as master of ceremonies, was debonair, warm, yet restrained. Zegree’s passion veers toward jazz, and most everything heard was flavored by that fancy. As emcee, he’s more the kid let loose to speak his mind; he’s casual, folksy, loquacious.
Devotees of the Singing Hoosiers and these annual concerts may split in preference, favoring one versus the other. Maestro Zegree, as did Michael Schwartzkopf, has years to build on his chosen approach and make it a fully accepted tradition. He seems, however, to have made an awfully good start. Audience response cannot be considered to have been anything but enthusiastic.
As for the Singing Hoosiers, they sang with all the clarity and moved around with all the energy one has come to expect. What’s more, Zegree has conditioned them to embrace his artistic enthusiasms. They have become his show choir, whether attacking a manic “Jingle Bell Fantasy,” a resonant “Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year,” a gladdening “What a Wonderful World,” or a totally jazzed, wildly syncopated, over-the-top “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Two versions of “Joy to the World” added pleasure, both premieres: a zesty one for the chorus by Zegree and a just-as-zesty instrumental one for the Singing Hoosiers Band and Horns by participating drummer Nate Anderson.
Brent Wallarab’s Big Band added to the evening’s beat with a couple of breezy selections from Duke Ellington’s take on the Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker Suite,” “Peanut Brittle Brigade” and “Sugar Rum Cherry,” and by joining the newest member of the Jacobs School faculty, vocalist and arranger Ly Wilder, for a goosebumps-raising, ultra-jazzy adaptation of “Silent Night.”
Among the other highlights were Vince Guaraldi’s “Charlie Brown Christmas,” as terrifically performed by Zegree at the Steinway, with backup; Singing Hoosiers alum and Jacobs School director of development Melissa Dickson belting “Sing Noel,” accompanied by the chorus and Syncopation; a sing-along, and Santa Claus.
Special plaudits must go to pianist Wataru Niimori and to choreographers Joe Giovannetti, Emily Paulsen and Chris Yousif.