Music, Vocal music

The Arvada Chorale and new Music Director Steven Burchard

A review by Robin McNeil

Welcome Steven Burchard!

On Friday, March 7, I attended a concert given by the Arvada Chorale at the Performing Arts Complex at the Pinnacle Charter School on 84th Ave. This was the first time I had ever set foot in the Performing Arts Complex, and I was quite pleasantly surprised. It has a large stage, and I would guess that it seats an audience of at least 600. The wall that separates the orchestra section from the mezzanine section seemed a little unwieldy at first, but it turned out to be of very little consequence. The acoustics are quite acceptable.

This concert was the first that the Arvada Chorale has given with their new Artistic Director, Steven Burchard. I will quote from the website of the Arvada Chorale:

“The chorale welcomes Steven Burchard to the Arvada Chorale family as our new Artistic Director!

Steven Burchard, Conductor

Steven Burchard, Conductor

Steven joined the chorale at the New Year and quickly took control to prepare the membership for our March ‘Made in America’ concert.  Monday night rehearsals have been energized by his leadership, enthusiasm, and playful wit producing more than just amazing harmonies as he has rallied the membership into a true ensemble.

“Steven has extensive experience leading chorale groups and the chorale is benefiting from his considerable talent.  Most recently, Steven taught choir and orchestra for 31 years in the Adams 12 Five Star School District touring both nationally and internationally with his groups.  He has spent over 20 years conducting Denver-area church choirs, including stays at Central Presbyterian Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, and Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church and is currently serving as Music Director at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder.

“He earned his Master’s Degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music and completed a double Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education (choral emphasis) and Psychology from Metropolitan State College of Denver, where he studied conducting with his mentor, Dr. Jerrald D. McCollum. He is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association and the American String Teachers Association.”

The program Friday evening was entitled Made in America, and was comprised of American composers and music. They opened their program with The Star Spangled Banner, and, without any urging, the audience sang along with them. Maestro Burchard’s first heading in Friday’s program was American Folk Music, and the first work following the Star-Spangled Banner was Sourwood Mountain composed by Edward Fissinger (1920-1990), a choral composer who taught at the University of Illinois from 1955 to 1957 and several other universities. From the outset, I was impressed with the good blend of voices in this choir. In addition, I was struck by their overall good diction, which, quite frankly, took me by surprise considering that the Arvada Chorale is a fairly large choir of sixty members. Generally speaking, the larger the choir, the more difficult it is for them to produce good diction simply because of the large number involved. But this was a rousing folk tune which they sang with admirable spirit.

Following the Fissinger, the Arvada Chorale performed three arrangements of American folk music that were arranged by Aaron Copland: Stomp Your Foot, I Bought Me a Cat, and The Promise of Living. There was a bass solo in Stomp Your Foot that was very well done by Robert Ostrowski. He has an enormous voice that filled the hall.

Inserted among the Aaron Copland songs was an arrangement of the folk tune Sis Joe completed by Jackson Berkey of Mannheim Steamroller fame. Berkey’s arrangement is entitled Sacramento Sis Joe, and was clearly connected to the Gold Rush era in California. Four high school students Amanda Isaac, Caitlin McNally, Cassie Draper, and Keyauna Caro danced to this as the choir sang. Dressed as miners, they also carried picks. As a matter of fact, Aaron Copland also used this tune in the fifth movement of his ballet, Rodeo.

I should point out that the accompanists performed excellently. Dr. Chappell Kingsland and Laura Moylan (who is a doctoral candidate in piano at CU Boulder) were outstanding.

This concert was divided into different sections, or headings, and the following section was performed by the Pinnacle High School Choir. They sang five works, The Cuckoo, Soldier, Over the Rainbow, Coming Home, and Firework.

Pinnacle High School Choir is conducted by Amanda Lucarini. I will quote from the program notes:

“This is Amanda Lucarini’s first year directing the Pinnacle Charter School’s high school and middle school choirs. Ms. Lucarini directed choir and theater in Ohio for several years, then moved back to her home state to pursue a Master’s Degree in vocal pedagogy at the University of Colorado. After completing her degree, she directed choir at Thunder Ridge Middle School in Centennial, CO. She is also a singer and section leader of the professional core ensemble Ars Nova Singers in Boulder, and she occasionally performs as a soloist in the Denver area.”

As the program notes assert, “The Pinnacle High School Choir is a non-auditioned ensemble open to all ninth to twelfth grade students.… Many members of this multitalented choir are also gifted athletes, artists, instrumentalists, actors, and even rock band performers.” 

All five of the works that were sung by the Pinnacle High School Choir were performed very well. There was a very different arrangement of Over the Rainbow. In fact, it was a version plus an arrangement. The version was done by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (a Hawaiian arranger), and his version was arranged by Andy Beck. The soloists in this version of Over the Rainbow were Michelle Vang and Haley Klug. This was a most unusual arrangement: the familiar melodic line was occasionally drastically reshaped, and the harmonies were very different from the original version. I must say, however, that it was very effective, and the young singers sounded quite good.

The final work in this section of the program, Firework, is a Katie Perry song, and it was arranged by guest pianist, Ishan Pradhan, a Pinnacle High School student. This young man is most certainly gifted, not only in arranging, but also in his approach to playing the piano. It was natural and very pianistic, and he demonstrated a confidence that showed his long experience playing the piano. It was great to see a young person with his ability. It would be my hope that he makes a career of music.

Following the intermission, the Arvada Chorale performed American Love Songs, which included two songs by George and Ira Gershwin, one by René Clausen, and one by James McCray. In the Gershwin Love is Here to Stay, I would have hoped for a little bit more sharpness of rhythm, for I found the performance of this piece to be a little bland. However, the other three works were sung quite well.

Following American love Songs was a section entitled American Songs of the Spirit, which included two works: a spiritual entitled What a Morning, and Randall Thompson’s beautiful Alleluia. The Thompson was particularly well performed. 

The last section, or division, was a joint performance between the Arvada Chorale and the Pinnacle High School Choir that included a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s immortal West Side Story. This was aanother work on Friday’s program that was performed extremely well.

The Arvada Chorale (mind you, it is a community choir) appeared to be completely excited by this performance, and seemed eager to work with their new Artistic Director, Steven Burchard. Judging by the way the choir kept their eyes glued to him certainly demonstrated the confidence that they have in his ability. It is also exciting to know that Amanda Lucarini is the new conductor at the Pinnacle Charter School. There is no question that she has the ability to lead the choirs in brand-new directions, and to develop them into excellent organizations. Both organizations, the Arvada Chorale and the Pinnacle High School choirs, are fortunate indeed.

Arvada Chorale

Arvada Chorale

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