Monday, December 03, 2007

Heartland Men's Chorus: Christmas Down Home

As an erstwhile member of the Kansas City Heartland Men's Chorus, it was a strange, but enjoyable experience being on the other side of the stage for this weekend's performances of their annual Holiday show Christmas Down Home.

In its 22nd successful season, the HMC is one of the nation's premiere Gay men's choruses. With over 100 singing members, frequently sold out performances and a well organized management, the Chorus is, along with the Symphony, Lyric Opera, Herriman Arts Series and the Ballet, a major cultural icon for Kansas City. The chorus is directed by Joseph Nadeau, now in his at least 9-10th season.

Christmas Down Home was a formula HMC Christmas show. Even though I was not singing, I could predict how the show would progress with relative accuracy. The first half is more "serious" and traditional, with a Hanukkah song thrown in for good measure. The highlight as the first act was a suite of Appalachian Carols accompanied by an ensemble of violin, guitar/mandolin, steel guitar, bass and drums. Some familiar, some not, they were charming, expressive and "simple". The second half is the "funny" part, usually rapped around a story narrated or acted (this time a narration of a country/western "Night Before Christmas") and will usually feature someone in drag, dancing and general silliness. Of course this was no exception. The highlight here was a hilarious and well sung "JalapeƱo" Chorus set to Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus from "Messiah" and a rousing "Thank God I'm a Jewish Boy" set to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy".

The solos were numerous and usually good, but the opening piece "Joy" was marred by two shrill tenor solos that really did nothing to make the song attractive. The frequency of the solos was one of the drawbacks of the program, and of past HMC programs. Although it is wonderful to highlight the wonderful talent of the chorus, the solos are frequently lengthy (as in "Not in Our Town", a poignant true story of Billings, Montana showing solidarity with its Jewish citizens who were being attacked by the KKK, and somewhat in The Appalachian Carols as well), the full power and majesty of 130 talented male voices ringing out in tune is a wonder to behold and not heard often enough. It is also,(speaking from experience)tedious from a chorus member's perspective to be relegated to background chorus. Really only in the last piece did we really get to hear the chorus in full steam, and it was glorious.

I am proud to have sung with this fine ensemble, and will likely do so again. This past year was just too difficult for me to devote the time needed to prepare for the shows. The HMC is a vital part of Kansas City, a great evening's entertainment, and a truly an experience that lives up to their goal of Enlightening, Inspiring, Healing and Empowering.

Great Job!

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