Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The other Hallelujahs

“Hallelujah” will be presented in Cuernavaca on Friday. When I saw the poster for this concert I mistakenly thought they would be singing Handel’s famed Hallelujah Chorus. In fact they are singing two very different versions.

The singers are the Agrupación Coral Deo Gracias, a Cuernavaca-based multilingual chorus representing many nations. It’s an interesting group of people who are joined together by their love of music.

There’s Olga Ruiz, a retired obstetrician-gynocologist and grandmother in her 80s who will sing one of the solos. Her granddaughter Natalia Reveles, a student at the Tec de Monterrey in Cuernavaca, joins her in the choir.
Bass soloist Tony Trejo has also involved his family; he now has two teenage daughters in the chorus.

Susan Kirago is from Kenya and like the rest of the choir sings in five languages. They haven’t yet sung something in her native language.

Many of the singers, like my friend Ellen Macdonald-Almazán, are cancer survivors.

And they are all serious about their music. In addition to rehearsing for concerts like this one, they study music theory and vocalization each week with the chorus director Andrea Carr and her assistant Moisés Hernández.

Andrea Carr has been leading the group since retiring as head of the music department at La Salle University in Cuernavaca. Born in Montreal and raised in Mexico, she was a child prodigy on the piano and performed from the age of 10 in major recitals and concerts.  She traveled to England for high school and spent her college years in Canada, studying under piano greats Luba Zuk and Charles Reiner at McGill University.

While always pursuing her love of piano, Andrea took voice lessons and sang in choirs wherever she lived. At the age of 19 she began to accompany those choirs and eventually led them.

Chorus assistant Moisés Hernández is a La Salle music school graduate and was a student of Professor Andrea. As a result of a 2008 accident he’s bound to a wheelchair and no longer able to pursue a career as a drummer. He and Andrea split the 38-member choir so they can teach both beginning and advanced music theory.

In this, their sixth concert, the Agrupación Coral Deo Gracias is singing an ambitious program ranging from the baroque to the secular, from the 16th century to the 21st.

“We’ll sing all six movements of Mozart’s Missa Brevis in D Major in Latin,” Ellen Macdonald-Almazan told me. “When the music was presented to us by Andrea we thought it was impossibly ambitious. Our first performance was enthusiastically received — far surpassing our expectations.”

Friday’s concert will feature a medley of songs from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and “Sin Ti,” a Mexican favorite written by Guadalajaran Pepe Guizar (1912-1980). Guizar is the composer of the mariachi favorite “Guadalajara.” They’ll also sing Hal Hopson’s arrangement of “The Gift of Love,” a beautiful hymn-like piece perfect for this season of Pentacost.

The program will begin and end with “Hallelujah.” I remember as a boy in Colombia everyone getting to their feet whenever the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s “Messiah” began. I was told, and believed, it was because at the “Messiah”’s original London performance King George II was so moved he spontaneously stood; when the King was standing everyone else was expected to stand as well.

Though a nice story, it’s apparently untrue. The “Messiah” did not even debut in England but in Ireland and there is no record of George II ever attending the “Messiah.” Nonetheless, myths are difficult to destroy and this one has such a nice ring of authenticity.

The program begins with a contemporary arrangement of “Hallelujah” by Philip Hayes. It closes with the singing of Canadian legend Leonard Cohen’s probably equally beloved “Hallelujah,” as arranged by Roger Emerson.  Unlike Handel’s sacred music, Cohen’s version is a secular anthem, though it will be the second time I’ve heard it sung in a church.

Charlie’s Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins is a huge Leonard Cohen fan and has attended a number of his concerts. “I don’t know whether it is related to standing during Handel’s “Hallelujah” or not but concert audiences always stand for Cohen’s performances of his ‘Hallelujah.’ I prefer to think it is because it is the aching anthem of a generation that’s suffered the destruction of so many illusions.”

With the two “Hallelujah”s bracketing the Cuernavaca concert, goers will have the opportunity to decide whether to stand or sit at both ends of an eclectic musical evening. Either way I say, hallelujah for this continued gift of music in the community.

“Hallelujah” will be presented Friday June 13, at 8 p.m. at Parroquia María Madre de la Misericordia, Calle Río Tamazula #25, Colonia Vista Hermosa, Cuernavaca. Doors open at 7 p.m. $100 pesos, 50% discount for students with ID and INAPAM cardholders.

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