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Vancouver’s premiere community choir wants everyone to be quite clear about its musical mastery. So, just in time for its final concert series of this season, the group that has called itself the Vancouver USA Singers since 1994 has unveiled its new-and-improved name: the Vancouver Master Chorale.
Vancouver Master Chorale “sounds more like what we do. It takes the choir to the next level,” said music director Jana Hart — who confessed that the previous name occasionally soured potential members on joining. Some assumed a group tagged “singers” must be a handful of straw-hatted, barbershop-quartet-style harmonizers; others figured the inclusion of “USA” meant that the group waved flags and sang patriotic standards only.
There’s nothing wrong with barbershop quartets or patriotic standards, Hart said, but neither of those sums up the choir’s true colors. If you’ve attended any of its concerts over the past few years, you know the group has grown to nearly 100 voices and tackled many legendary classical works by the likes of Mozart and Handel — as well pieces by contemporary composers such as Morton Lauridsen (a Washington native renowned for his choral works) and Henry Mollicone (a celebrated opera composer and friend of Hart’s).
News about the choir’s eventual name change has been circulating for about a year, Hart said, and that has already helped the group become what it wants to be. “We have several new members who all said, ‘This sounds like something we want to be in,’ ” she said.
To show off its mastery — and have a little fun for its grand finale before summer break — the chorale’s upcoming concerts this weekend will feature versions of some supremely popular hits from FM radio and from Broadway. Along with tunes by Billy Joel and James Taylor, you’ll hear Paul Simon’s somber “The Sound of Silence”; everybody’s favorite nonsense operetta, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the rock band Queen; and the 1986 Cyndi Lauper anthem that provides the overall theme for these concerts: “True Colors.”
With lyrics that exhort us, “Don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors, true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow,” it’s easy to see why the song has become a beloved gay-liberation anthem (and has been covered by many other artists, from Phil Collins to Justin Timberlake); Lauper even launched a nonprofit agency called True Colors United to work against youth homelessness — noting that LGBTQ youth who are alienated from or rejected by their families account for a disproportionately big chunk of the homeless population in America.
“The song has been a favorite of mine for many years,” said Hart. “I love the message of celebrating and loving everyone’s unique gifts, talents and history. In our choir we have a large collection of singers with diverse stories, language and experiences who … become one in song.”
When a choir like this takes on pop music, Hart said, they don’t just belt out familiar hits; they purchase professional arrangements that develop and explore simple-sounding songs in ways likely to amaze you. (And then there are unique pieces like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was born plenty complex and pseudo-classical.)
“This music is lighter, but it’s not easier,” Hart said. “Some of the best arrangements, the really great arrangements,” are imaginative versions of hits we all know and love, she said. Some old-school choir directors don’t like “condescending” to perform pop music, Hart said, but she grew up loving everything from pop hits and Broadway tunes to jazz and opera. “I always thought it all went hand in hand,” she said. “Gorgeous music is gorgeous music.”
Also featured in this show will be several young singers. Some will form duets with their choir-member parents, showing off what happens when kids grow up in actively musical families.
“If you hang around my house at all, you’ll hear both of the kids humming at ridiculous decibels,” said first tenor Ryan Allen. “We have always been a singing family.”
Allen and his daughter, Zoe, who turned 8 years old earlier this week, will harmonize on “A Million Dreams,” a song from the recent movie musical “The Greatest Showman.”
“It’s pretty special. She’s growing into her voice and gaining confidence. It’s so much fun to watch,” Allen said.
Also, Parkrose High School senior Easton Fiser, 2019 winner of the choir’s annual $1,000 scholarship and a student of Vancouver singer and voice teacher Laura Thoreson, will sing a pair of pieces; students in the Franklin Elementary School Chinese language immersion program will sing a Chinese folk song; and award-winning special guest musician Hai Bi will perform “High Mountains, Flowing Water,” on the guzheng, or Chinese zither.
If You Go
What: “True Colors,” a concert by the Vancouver Master Chorale (formerly the Vancouver USA Singers)
When: 7 p.m. June 1; 3 p.m. June 2.
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 4300 Main St., Vancouver.
Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the door.
Learn more: www.VancouverMasterChorale.org
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