Last December I reviewed the Christmas concert of the Maui Choral Arts Association (MCAA) in Kihei. It was an entertaining performance, launching the holiday season for me and my partner who had just arrived in Maui the previous month for a long sabbatical.
Last Saturday 19th March 2011, on the eve of the biggest full moon in 24 years, we attended the spring concert of MCAA “Sing On, Sing On!” The location was the same — Kihei Baptist Chapel. The choir members were largely the same — same size, same make-up. Yet the Lei of Stars Maui Choral Festival Concert was entirely different from the December concert.
How best to put it? My partner said, “There is a thin line between entertainment and art. They have crossed it.”
There was no question of the entertainment value of this well-attended concert. The programme was varied enough to please anyone. From the opening blessing and chant of deep voiced Jimmy Aarona to the familiar “If Music Be the Food of Love” that was also sung at the December concert, we heard famous choral works of Verdi’s Nabucco and La Traviata as well as Haydn’s The Creation. The harp was awakened with two solo harp interludes by artistic and executive director Celia Canty, who is the founder and resident conductor of the Festival Chorus and Paradise Singers. Several soloists stepped out of the choir to sing Verdi and Haydn.
From the flowing Hawaiian song “No Ka Beauty O Honokohau” with a young hula dancer Makena Pang on stage to the exciting and syncopated Israeli folksong “Zum Gali,” the singers sang with unmistakenable passion and love. It was sheer joy to see, hear, and feel their enthusiasm.
We as the audience were not mere onlookers. The conductors spoke to us and involved us. In recognition of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Canty invited us to sing the first piece “E Ho’omaluhia” or Dona Nobis Pacem. We were also invited to sing the last piece “Aloha ‘Oe.”
The singers sang to us. Audience engagement led to a very appreciative audience, particularly of the conductors’ acknowledgment of the accompanist Angie Carr behind the Baldwin grand piano and the individual soloists.
If an interesting and diverse programme coupled with audience engagement is essential to entertainment, then what is art?
Guest conductor Dr Donald Neuen from UCLA worked with the choir for several consecutive days before the concert. Although we were not present for the intensive rehearsals, we imagine them to be somewhat like those from the movie “As It is in Heaven” in which a conductor changes the choir, the way they perceive themselves, the way the view the music, and the result is art not entertainment.
One example of this was demonstrated in the prequel to Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria. After briefly introducing the composer’s background, Neuen asked the men to sing a passage with crescendo and decrescendo. Because it was so repetitive, he asked them to sing the same passage again, adhering strictly to correct rhythm and articulation but without any variation in dynamics whatsoever. He did the same with the female singers. This short exercise gave a glimpse into the sort of extensive nuances Neuen asked of the choir members in the rehearsals —- weaving colourful layers upon each other to paint an art work that does not just impress but take us on a journey far from the familiar.
For those of you who missed this concert, mark your diaries for their season finale concert on Saturday 30th April 2011 at 7 pm in the same location: Kihei Baptist Chapel. Strangers in Paradise will present an evening of music from broadway, movies, and opera. More info, visit Maui Choral Arts Association.