Saturday’s Columbus Philharmonic concert was a successful collaboration among Indiana-based musicians and a showcase of local talent.
The Singing Hoosiers of Indiana University joined the orchestra to perform the music of Indiana natives Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter, throwing in a few other classics from the Great American Songbook era.
As the evening began, Maestro David Bowden enthusiastically took the stage and immediately launched into an medley of Carmichael songs arranged by Sammy Nestico. Previewing what was to come, the orchestra adeptly navigated the different moods of “Georgia on My Mind,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lazy River,” “Skylark” and “Stardust,” bringing out especially lush melodies in the string and horn sections.
Bowden then introduced IU’s Singing Hoosiers chorus — hidden from view at the back of the auditorium — and they began singing the Carmichael classic “Chimes of Indiana.” The choir members circled around the audience for a dramatic a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which culminated with what were probably the highest vocal notes of the night, and then squeezed on stage with the Philharmonic for the rest of the concert.
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The program continued with two Porter songs, “Begin the Beguine” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” The latter highlighted the component of all Singing Hoosier performances that was missing thus far — dance. The six soloists sang well, and although the choreography was not always perfectly synchronized, it was entertaining.
The next two works highlighted the talented Bloomington instrumentalists who accompany the Singing Hoosiers and who had joined the orchestra for the night: Kevin Johnson on trumpet, Adam Carillo on saxophone and Alex Strong on trombone. Their soulful renditions of “Knock Me a Kiss” and “St. Louis Blues” demonstrated their fluency in jazz and technical skill.
Unfortunately, although dancing is an energizing Singing Hoosier trademark, it was distracting to have the vocalists move in place during the latter instrumental solo. After additional works by Carmichael and Porter (“Georgia” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”), the first half of the program closed with a very jazzed-up and animated version of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
After intermission, the focus was again mainly on works by Porter (“Too Darn Hot” and “Night and Day”) and Carmichael (“Old Buttermilk Sky,” “Stardust” and “Skylark”) but brought a few additional styles to the stage.
Singing Hoosier alumni in the audience were invited to join in on the classic “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and it appeared that six men and women took up that offer.
The a cappella arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” demonstrated the sensitivity with which the choir sang under student director Caleb Lewis’ nuanced conducting. Finally, the Ward Swingle choral version of J.S. Bach’s “Little Organ Fugue in G Minor” was a lesson in rhythmic accuracy — something the choir managed to impressively sustain throughout the fast-moving piece.
The best vocal soloists of the evening belonged to basses Lewis (“Begin the Beguine”) and Patrick Kuntz (“Night and Day”), tenor Rafael de Campos Salles Soares (“Skylark”) and alto Bridget Foley (“They Say It’s Wonderful”). They all exhibited a rich and supported tone quality.
Overall, the Singing Hoosiers were well-prepared by directors Steve Zegree, Ly Wilder, Lewis and Duane Davis, and the group produced a full, unified, and well-balanced sound throughout its impressively memorized and choreographed program.
I hope the Philharmonic had as much fun with them as the audience clearly did. Indiana, you can be proud.
Priscilla Weaver is a doctoral student in organ performance at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and also serves as organist and choir director at First Lutheran Church, Columbus.