review by Janet I. Martineau
Inside the Temple Theatre on Saturday night there was a void....a moment of pitch blackness.
An from that void, from that void was created one of the most enjoyable, inventive and inspiring concerts EVER in Saginaw, Michigan.
It was a goosebump combination of mixed musical bag, church sermon, storytelling, Biblical history, motivational workshop and call to action all rolled into two hours.
We’re talking about the Saginaw Choral Society’s 2011/2012 season opener, titled “Wake Up! A Grand Gala of Songs.”
Two thoughts come to mind from witnessing it: one, new conductor Glen Thomas Rideout is a genius when it comes to concocting a concert with a storyline and understated special effects and two, somehow we have to convince the members of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy Choir to join the Saginaw Choral Society roster.
If you like to read reviews because of the negative comments, read no further. This one will probably overstate the case that “Wake Up!” took both the choral society and the audience to new levels on Saturday night.
What Rideout did in the first half was to loosely tell the story of God’s seven days creating the earth through well scripted narration and song -- from Mendelssohn’s mighty and reverent “Thanks Be to God” for The Second Day to Whitacre’s humorous “Animal Crackers” for The Sixth Day (which had the singers mooing like cows).
In those eight segments (it started with Darkness, that pitch blackness in the theater), we were treated to eloquent spoken words like God realizing that green and blue (grass and water) look better to the eye than green and brown, and songs about grass, water, critters like the panther and the firefly, chirping birds, the sounds of wordless primordal ooze.
Rideout often used his hands to add impact to his spoken words. The lighting on the backdrop reflected the colors being sung about -- the yellow of the sun, the green of grass, the blue of water and even the stars and moon being created.
None of the songs was familiar (always a plus for this critic); most of them were difficult, pushing the singers to new heights (and deliver they did).
When all on earth was created, it was celebrated with Hailstork’s gospel infused “Wake Up, My Spirit,” during which pianist Carl Angelo nearly flew off his bench accompanying it.
And then, just like God did on The Seventh Day, Rideout and his singers rested (as in intermission), and an audible buzz of excitement began rippling through the audience.
The second part of the program was no less spectacular with its half-dozen inspirational and uplifting songs -- and the appearance of that exquisite SASA choir. When they joined the choral society in three songs the sound was so full and lush it led to the wish they become permanent members of the choral society.
And when they soloed on Bestor’s a cappella “Prayer of the Children” -- oh my God! Every word crystal clear, harmonies right on target, performance value in the adult range not just kids. Bravo SASA conductor Jeremiah Kraniak. Cheers erupted.
Choral Society member David Brown and SASA student David Horwath teamed up on the Beatles standard “Let It Be” -- with Horwath creating a buzz in the audience for the deepness and maturity of his voice.
Other noteworthy soloists were soprano Darlene Mikoleizik, tenor Joe Madison, and whistler Pat Shelley -- and Rideout himself.
In amongst all this “Wake Up!” music, preacher/inspirational speaker Rideout delivered a dual theme. Yes the concert was about the creation of Earth and the need for songs to shore us up when we are feeling down. But it also was a (sometimes overstated, for just one tiny complaint) message to Saginaw, its residents and overcoming its negative issues.
Granted Rideout was speaking to the choir (the people in the audience) because they were, for the most part, Saginaw believers. But it's just nice to have someone else, from outside, say they believe in our town too. And it was fun to listen to the muttering when he scored a particular point or two.
And then we were all sent into the night with a bag of animal crackers (in deference to that trio of songs sung during the The Sixth Day of creation) and a realization that Rideout’s tenure here is going to make for one hell of a ride.