Donning their inclusive apparel

By Tom Marks |

Over the past five months, various choral ensembles have graced Kansas City’s stages and churches with their talents. From world renowned, nationally touring choirs to our own local gems, this city has experienced a wide range of talent, style, and artistry—now the Heartland Men’s Chorus can add their name to this ever-growing list. Opening their 26th season, the Heartland Men’s Chorus presented “Holiday Glee” Friday night to a nearly full audience. Appropriately titled, their concert warmed the audience with all-purpose, entertaining seasonal cheer.

Opening the night on a fiscally positive note, Heartland Men’s Chorus received a considerably large monetary donation from the Bacchus Foundation for support in their current season. Following this affirmative gesture, Joseph Nadeau, artistic director and conductor, took stage as the curtain rose, revealing the sharply dressed and eager-to-sing choir.

The ensemble began their concert with a traditional Zambian song, “Bonse Aba.” Classic Christmas tunes followed at which point, in characteristic style, the Heartland Men’s Chorus presented a Hawaiian themed “Mele Kalikimaka” by R. Alex Anderson, complete with flowery leis, grass skirts, and yes, coconut bras. The entertaining selection featured guest conductor, Andrea Bough, and the HMC Holiday Dance Team—a group of eight, fearless men who unabashedly displayed their committed, amusing, and downright entertaining dance moves.

After this laughable romp was the more sincere “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Joseph Gregorio. Though intonation issues pervaded this piece’s delicate texture, the dedication and earnestness revealed in the faces comprising this all-male ensemble overshadowed these issues, drawing the audience past the music’s technical aspects to the truly sincere and, consequentially, more significant way in which it was presented.

“Shehecheyanu”, a traditional Hebrew song arranged by Charlie Beale, paid homage to the chorus’ “Ad Astra” members who have passed away. Solos from singer Keith Wiedenkeller and bassoonist Keel Williams accented the somber Hebrew tune. The solemn tone was quickly dissipated, however, by a holiday medley dedicated to the teddy bear. Though the arrangement was terrible, the Heartland Men’s Chorus brought the same dedication to this piece seen previously and sold it to the audience with equal effectiveness. The HMC Holiday Dance Team once again grabbed attention during this selection as they playfully paraded around the stage in various manifestations of teddy bear costumes.

It wouldn’t have been a holiday concert without a selection from Handel’s Messiah. Closing out the first half was a modern rendition of the “Hallelujah” Chorus that had the audience clapping and moving in their seats to the upbeat, pop arrangement of this holiday staple.

Somehow, the second half of the concert presented even more riotous, humorous holiday music from the HMC.  “Hanukah Gloves” by M. Charnin and R. Gray described the comical plight of a young man waiting in the checkout line as he tried to buy his mother the exciting gift of gloves for Hanukah, and was entertainingly acted by soloist, Wilson L. Allen.

Arguably the most entertaining selection for the evening was the “Nativity ‘Set.’” I didn’t think it was possible to mix Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with Christmas lyrics, but somehow the Heartland Men’s Chorus managed to do so with tasteful effectiveness. I found myself laughing out loud at the ridiculous lyrics in the set’s second piece, “We the Kings (ala Jerry Herman).” As the chorus asked, “who are the men in the three cotton dresses?” Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior appeared onstage in full fabulousness with colorful costumes and ornate headdresses.

The concert wrapped up with “Peace, Peace/Silent Night,” arranged by Rick and Sylvia Powell. This famous Christmas tune interestingly asked for audience participation. In addition to singing a verse with the HMC, the audience joined sign language interpreter Rick McAdams (who had been signing the night’s concert from the corner of the stage) in a completely soundless rendition of “Silent Night,” performed wholly in sign language. The hush in the theater created an effective, quiet reverence on which to the end the night. After the rousing applause that followed, the HMC concluded with an encore encouraging the audience to “keep Christmas in your heart the whole year through.”

The Heartland Men’s Chorus provides a valuable addition to Kansas City’s already diverse choral scene. Though musical issues appeared throughout the performance (problems with pitch, blend, and some unstable voices), their well-programmed, entertainingly performed concert overshadowed these issues. The men’s devotion to the ensemble and their consistently playful attitude toward the music was effectively transferred to their dedicated and appreciative audience. This group provides a necessary balance to Kansas City’s choral scene with their fun, purely entertaining and enjoyable performance.


Heartland Men’s Chorus
Holiday Glee
Friday, December 2, 2011(Reviewed)
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO
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