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Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I'll Have My Longhair Music in Bright Orange, Please

I'm not a great fan of Halloween, but last evening's concert by Vocal Works, entitled "Wicked Good," was easily one of the best concerts I have attended in American Fork, besides being a lot of fun.

This may seem a terrible thing for a former child and a father of four to confess, but I'd sooner just skip Halloween and proceed directly to Election Day. At my most enthusiastic, I am a Halloween skeptic. Of all things, why should we celebrate the . . .

Never mind. This year, suddenly, I find myself in a very Halloweenish mood, and a full week early, at that. I blame Ryan Taylor.

I saw -- or, more significantly, heard -- M. Ryan Taylor's new musical troupe, Vocal Works, several weeks ago at the American Fork Amphitheater, in one of the city's free concerts. They were excellent, as I reported. On that evening they were previewing part of the program for an upcoming Halloween-themed benefit concert. That benefit concert, "Wicked Good," was last night at the Northampton in American Fork, and it was superb. (In the interest of full disclosure, I note that the pianist for the evening was MFCC, who has been MFP a lot longer than she has been MFCC.)

The Audience

There was comfortable seating in the Northampton's west hall for about 140, and the room was nearly full. There were toddlers, children, youth, and adults. The adults did a good job of keeping the other three demographics contained and relatively tranquil, and the performers generally did a good job keeping people interested. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative -- with good cause, to be sure. When given a chance in the penultimate number, they even sang rather well.

Given that the performances were excellent, one might be surprised to learn that the nearly-automatic standing ovation did not occur at the concert's end. Yet the audience seemed quite pleased with evening. Perhaps it was an unusually sophisticated audience, which understood that an audience can be enthusiastic and quite appreciative from its collective derrier, and that standing ovations ought not be passed out like pretzels, or first-date kisses, lest their value diminish.

The Program

Singers included several excellent (adult) operatic singers, including Taylor himself, and the American Fork Children's Choir. Except for the latter, most sang solos or duets.

The program was mostly a mix of classical vocal literature on Halloweenish themes, fine little Halloween songs composed or arranged by Taylor himself, and scary storytelling by the talented Wendy Gourley. Strictly speaking, most of the music was "longhair" music, but to appreciate the spirit of the evening you must understand that in one noteworthy case it was very long, bright orange hair, with a witch's hat on top.

The crowd favorite was probably Rossini's "The Cat Duet," performed with delightful catlike demeanor by Janilyn Anderson and Lynnette Owens. It's rather like an operatic "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," except that (a) the entire text consists of meowing, except when one of them coughs up an imaginary hairball, and (b) it's by Gioacchino Rossini, and therefore belongs at the opera or concert hall, not on Broadway.

My personal favorite was the Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, very beautifully sung by Sara Thomas, one of the few performers not dressed as a cat or a witch. (A princess, perhaps?)

The children responded enthusiastically to "Witch's Song" from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, which had Anderson doing frenetic, witchy things up and down the center aisle. She either was really having fun or is very good at pretending.

Additional Appropriate Subject Matter

The following seasonally appropriate subjects also received attention:

  • an account of a crow eating a dead king's marrow;
  • a "tale of unrequited love," as Taylor put it,  "The Spider and the Ghost of a Fly" (my italics);
  • friends mourning at the grave of a woman wrongly convicted and hanged for a murder which was really committed by a monster;
  • a haunted mansion;
  • a green dragon that eats tax collectors;
  • a lover missing under dark and suspicious circumstances;
  • a celebration of piracy (and its superiority to politics in some cases).

Final Thoughts

Conveniently, at Halloween things and people don't have to stop doing scary stuff when they die.

In addition to those already named, the evening's excellent performers included singers Andrea Bowles Custer and Ruth Ellis.

Proceeds from the concert go to The Shropshire Music Foundation, based in Arizona, which uses music in its efforts to undo the damage of war among youth and children in Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Uganda, and elsewhere.

Heidi Rodeback comments (11/2/06):

"A princess, perhaps?"  That was the Queen of the Night.

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