‘American Songsters’ concert presented  by Musica Viva

Posted: March 20, 2014

The Winchester Star

Winchester — Winchester Musica Viva’s spring concert will celebrate the works of four American composers who share a special link — the anniversary of their deaths.

When artistic director Ken Nafziger was deciding on music for the group’s upcoming “American Songsters” concert, what drew him to the four men he chose was that 2014 is a significant anniversary of all of their deaths.

Cole Porter, Sam Cooke and Marc Blitzstein all died in 1964, making this the 50th anniversary of their deaths, while Stephen Foster died in 1864, or 150 years ago, he said.

“I find that when I pay attention to composers having anniversary years, you chose to do music you wouldn’t have done otherwise,” said Nafziger, of Harrisonburg. “It is a good connection to the past and musical treasures we get from the past.”

The choir will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 26 W. Boscawen St. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15. Students with ID and children under 10 are free.

The 25-member choir is excited about the concert program since it is giving them an opportunity to perform music with a jazzy or gospel flavor and explore a variety of music, said Rebecca Dellinger, managing director and a soprano in the group.

She had never heard of Blitzstein before this concert, and it has been wonderful to come back to Cooke’s music, she said.

“Singing the music by Sam Cooke is wonderful. It is making us fall in love with him all over again,” said Dellinger, of Frederick County. “His music is soulful. It fills you up and is so great to sing.”

Musica Viva member Georgiann Toole, who frequently arranges pieces for the group, did so again with three of Cooke’s tunes, Dellinger said. Two will be sung by the main group and one by Vocal Point, a quartet that will perform during the concert.

“Her arrangements are fantastic and really bring out the depth to his music,” Dellinger said.

Cooke’s “Until Jesus Calls Me Home” is stunning, and the soloist Jessica Morgan gives a very moving performance,” she said.

The new arrangement will be premiered at the concert, along with Toole’s take on “I’m so Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always.”

Foster was a popular composer during the Civil War, with many of his songs crossing into different cultural settings, Nafziger said. Some of the selections of his work are “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming,” “Ah, May the Red Rose Live Always,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.”

“We are doing a couple of things that are drawing-room pieces, the kind of things they would have sung for an evening’s entertainment, not so much a concert hall,” he said.

Dellinger loves an arrangement Toole did of Foster’s “Camptown Races,” which “has a barbershop quality to it combined with a little doo wop and some modern references. It is a little silly and fun to sing. It’s super fast.”

Dellinger is one of the featured soloists in a performance of Blitzstein’s “Rain Quartet,” which is a scene from his opera “Regina.” For her, it is the most rhythmically challenging work of the concert.

“I wouldn’t call it melodic. The whole thing is really like a conversation,” she said. “It is a scene from an opera, so they are having a conversation through the music, which you see more in modern musicals.”

Porter’s music will probably be the most recognizable for audiences, with songs such as “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” she said.

“I have always liked Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day.’ I think it’s not a piece people are overly familiar with,” she said. “A certain generation would definitely remember hearing it, but there are other Cole Porter songs we hear more often.”


Winchester Musica Viva will perform its “American Songsters” concert at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 26 W. Boscawen St. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15. Students with ID and children under 10 are free. For more information, go to winchestermusicaviva.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com