2017-01-12 / Schools

Singers fill arts center with holiday cheer

By Cary Ginell

CONCERT REVIEW /// TOHS choir

Thousand Oaks High School’s rejuvenated choir program, under the direction of Janna Santangelo, has become so popular that on the day of its annual holiday concert last month, a great deal of clamoring for tickets took place in the school’s sold-out performing arts center.

Over 100 students participated in the mid-December concert, which featured both traditional and contemporary favorites commemorating the holiday season.

The vocal programs at Conejo Valley high schools are each marked by a particular flavor.

Newbury Park High focuses on vocal performance and harmony. Westlake High zeros in on a variety of ensemble groups and flashy packaged show-choir numbers, while Thousand Oaks High is distinguished by exuberant homegrown choreography.

The mixed choir began TOHS’ concert with a lively version of the 16th century Finnish carol “Personent Hodie,” followed by a pensively beautiful version of Ruth Morris Gray’s somber “How Like a Winter,” whose melancholy words were drawn from Shakespeare’s 97th sonnet.

Also included were the Hebrew blessing “Shiru L’Adonai,” Ruth Morris Gray’s driving spiritual “Sing With the Angel” and a show-choir version of Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas hit, “Underneath the Tree.”

The 18-member vocal ensemble presented the secular “Here We Come A-Caroling,” which was followed by a trio consisting of Emma Roth, Desiree Hayden and Alyssa Hernandez singing Craig Hella Johnson’s creative pairing of the 16th century hymn “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” with Amanda McBroom’s “The Rose,” made famous by Bette Midler.

The ensemble then expanded into show-choir mode for a medley of high-energy production numbers, matching familiar holiday favorites like “Silver Bells” and “Deck the Halls” with lesser-known tunes like Hoagy Carmichael’s “The White World of Winter,” which featured choreography by senior Kristen Wisneski.

The concert choir portion of the show began with “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” followed by the uplifting “A Field of White,” Amy F. Bernon’s enchanting portrayal of the winter season, whose lyrics encourage and inspire through vivid imagery.

Because Hanukkah started on Christmas Eve, the two holidays were celebrated simultaneously; the custom on Hanukkah is for the blessing “Hanerot Halalu” to be chanted upon the lighting of each successive candle during the eight-day celebration.

Beci Slagle Mayo’s arrangement positions a slower section sung in English between the traditional Hebrew lyrics, with Eadan Dury doing a great job accompanying on clarinet.

John Rutter’s contemporary “Candlelight Carol” has been receiving much favor from choir programs since its publication in 1984, and the TOHS concert choir version proved to be the most movingly effective number of the evening. The choir began the song with the auditorium plunged into darkness, and a succession of handheld electric candles were illuminated one by one by the singers as they performed.

The a cappella spiritual “We’re Goin’ Up to Bethlehem” provided a lively follow-up to this number, and the choir’s set concluded with Las Vegas showroom legend Louis Prima’s spirited and quirky “What Will Santa Claus Say,” with choreography by Leasa Shukiar.

The conclusion of the concert featured the combined choirs performing Greg Gilpin’s contemporary spiritual “Goin’ Now to See the Baby,” followed by the school’s traditional closing number, the popular Ukrainianderived “Carol of the Bells,” with TOHS alumni invited on stage to join the assembled choirs.

Kevin Su Fukagawa provided piano accompaniment for the evening.

At the bows, bouquets of flowers were affectionately presented by the students to choir director Santangelo, who is expecting her first child this year. It appears the Thousand Oaks High School choir program is in good hands.

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