Classical Music

Houston Chamber Choir’s Audience Takes Control This Weekend

Houston Chamber Choir will let the audience decide part of its programming this weekend.
Houston Chamber Choir will let the audience decide part of its programming this weekend. Photo by Ken Jones
Houston Chamber Choir is letting the audience take the wheel for its concert this weekend. In it, the musicians will perform some of its all-time favorites, ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Billy Joel, along with song requests from patrons, for an evening of music with special meaning for all.

Themed Desert Island Playlist, the program contains pieces that resonate so deeply that people would not want to be without them even if stranded on a small, ocean-surrounded piece of land. The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main.

“This concert’s goal is to remind us of the pieces that gave us the first thrill of choral music, without which we would feel stranded. We asked members of our audience and also the musicians in the choir to send in their favorites,” said Bob Simpson, founder and artistic director.

With the flood of answers that came in, Simpson was challenged to narrow down the choices to fit into a single evening.

“The hardest job that I had was to winnow down the amazing richness of choral music to a number of pieces that would fit into one concert. We wanted to have a concert that would represent various periods and to be representative of some of the great composers and some of the essential choral pieces,” he said. “This is an unapologetic, feel-good concert in which people can come and enjoy the best choral music that's been composed. For those who haven't had a chance to hear the chamber choir or haven't heard the choir in a long time, this would be a perfect concert to come to and to invite friends as a wonderful introduction to the choir and to the richness of the choral repertoire.”

The set list includes classic gems like Giovanni Pierluigi pa Palestrina’s Exultate Deo, Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, and Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere mei. More contemporary hits like John Lennon's and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird and Joel’s And So It Goes also dot the program.

“One of the great strengths and joys of the Houston Chamber Choir is its ability to sing a wide range of repertoire. We wanted to be able to do some of the classics like Palestrina and Bach,” Simpson said. “We also have Billy Joel and The Beatles, which requires a completely different kinds of vocal technique and approach to the music, and that's where the breadth of musical abilities comes in. For the choir, it can sing Palestrina and sound like all we do is early music, and they can also sing more contemporary hits and sound as if we're a pop group. That's one of the great joys of working with them for me is how versatile they are.”

Choir members won’t be the only ones to perform. The audience will have a chance to participate in some of the favorite song selections as well.

“It's not a surprise, but we are asking the audience to sing with us. It seemed too good an opportunity for us to do a piece that everybody loves and one that can be approached by those who haven't done much singing, and that's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Ave verum. This is one of his greatest pieces,” Simpson said. “Although it's a very short, compact piece, it is truly a masterpiece. We're going to provide the audience with scores, and at that point in the concert, I'll turn to the audience and ask them to join the choir in singing. It will be a wonderful change for the audience from only sitting and listening and enjoying the choir. We're all going to get to be participants in the in the joy of choral music.”

In reflecting upon the planning for this concert, Simpson said that the responses were abundant, and there appears to be hope for a future concert of this same pick-your-own-playlist style.

“The responses we received from the musicians and audience members turned out to be a list that could fill three or four concerts. I'm already thinking about how we can perpetuate this concept to the coming season,” he said.

Put those thinking caps on now regarding what the Houston Chamber Choir should sing in the future.

Houston Chamber Choir performs Desert Island Playlist at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main. For tickets or information, call 713-224-5566 or visit houstonchamberchoir.org. $10 - $40.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd