Story last updated at 1/9/2014 - 11:57 am
During last Saturday’s 25th annual mid-winter vocal festival concert, Juneau singers performed some of their favorites from years past: selections from Schubert’s “Kyrie,” “O Fortuna” from Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” a traditional spiritual arranged by Hall Johnson. But a schedule of favorites still left plenty of time for surprises.
Halfway through the performance, after the solos, guest conductor Byron McGilvray was ushering ensemble members back on stage when Juneau Lyric Opera board member Lena Simmons stopped him. “There’s been a change in the program,” she said.
Singers brought out a throne for McGilvray to sit in and proceeded to serenade him with a medley of songs honoring him and the time he’s put into Juneau’s musical community. Frank Sinatra’s “Too Marvelous for Words,” Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “I Will Follow Him” were just a few. Several people sang “Thanks for the Memories.” Some of those memories were “watching feeding whales abound,” “those fireworks that you blasted,” and “Driving up to Tok… speed limits just a guide for others on the road.”
Scarlett Adam, a JLO board member, was one of those serenading McGilvray for the surprise performance. This year was her 17th participating in the festival, and her 17-year-old son, Sam Adam, who also sang, will study music at Trinity Valley with McGilvray in Texas next year.
“It’s changed some, but many of the faces are the same. “Jan (Capelle, singer, accompanist, conductor, and vocal coach) and Byron are as wonderful as they’ve always been,” she said of the festival during a practice prior to the final performance.
McGilvray and Capelle first started traveling to Juneau after they were approached by Juneauites Caroline Garland and Sandra Strandtmann at a Fairbanks Festival.
That first year, only 23 people participated, and they were only able to perform two pieces.
Over the years, the size of the group has increased. It’s also improved its abilities.
“We’ve got people who are now soloists who began in our voice class, this chorus,” McGilvray said. “That is the telling thing…. If it doesn’t cause the vocal community to grow, then we’re missing the boat.”
Sarah Penrose, almost 16, was the soloist for the Chichester Psalms performance. She’s been taking voice lessons from a Juneau teacher for the past four years, and has recently taken some lessons from Capelle, too. The festival is a new experience for her.
“You’ve got to be put on the spot a lot more… I’m not nervous about singing in front of people, it’s just you’ve got all these parts going on, and you weave them all together,” she said.
Jay Query has been singing in the festival for 12 years. “I just have always loved to sing,” he said. “(McGilvray) brings out the best in us in a short time.”
Coaching a community of singers differs from the college classes he teaches for the majority of the year, McGilvray said.
“You have a wider range of talents. You have a wider range of ages. You have a wider range of interests, and you have a wider range of abilities,” he said.
It’s rewarding, too.
“You get to watch them grow,” he said. “You always want to get them to go a little beyond where they think they’re capable of going.”
McGilvray commended the Juneau Lyric Opera and thanked audience members.
“The big thing is the fact that the Juneau Lyric Opera commits its efforts, its time, and its funding to this as community outreach and as a part of their planned season,” McGilvray said.
“We sing for ourselves, but it sure makes the experience richer when we can share it with others. That’s that magic that happens. The audience is just as much a part of this as anybody else.”
And as the tweaked lyrics to “Thanks for the Memories” went: “Oh, what the heck. Let’s go for 35.”