We are family

Lee Hartman | KCMetropolis.org

Modern FamiliesAuthor Richard Bach once stated, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” It is these beyond extrafamilial bonds that the Heartland Men’s Chorus along with special guest ensemble the Lawrence Children’s Choir explored to packed Folly Theater on Saturday evening’s “Modern Families.”

The acclaimed Lawrence Children’s Choir demonstrated why it continues to win national awards with a lovely opening set of J.S. Bach’s Bist du bei mir, Brian Tate’s Gate, Gate, Jim Papoulis’ Imbakwa, and Wallace Hornady’s Come and Sing! The young performers were remarkably poised with a well balanced sound and command of rhythm which was most noticeable in alternating 3/4, 6/8 Gate, Gate.

The men of HMC joined for the world premiere of Jake Narverud’s The Weaver. Naverud’s tonal language fit Bryan Welch’s text appealingly. Before the main thrust of the program, HMC’s performance of Andrea Ramsey’s Luminescence was the most noteworthy as it is arguably one of the more musically demanding pieces the chorus has programmed. The chorus afforded itself well especially on the coordinated sibilance of all the ess sounds. Unfortunately not all of the harmonies locked into place so some of the chord structures were unstable.

The second half consisted of the musical documentary “Modern Families.” Narrated beautifully by Gillian Power and Brian Ellison, the work interwove projections and family stories of chorus and community members, dance, pantomimed vignettes, and music; there was even an onstage proposal during one of the breaks. Tears of joy, sadness, and memories abounded. If there was one criticism it was that the stories were far more compelling than the overly repetitive musical selections. There were some fine musical standouts though. High tenor Todd Gregory-Downs soloed beautifully on Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of “A Thousand Beautiful Things.” René Clausen’s Set Me As a Seal was the most serious musical work of the piece, and the chorus rose to the occasion by sounding the best it has in years. “Way Ahead of My Time” was a laugh riot, anchored by the sure-footed dancing and impressive pipes of John Edmonds and Steve Jeffrey Karlin. How can you not love tap-dancing cavemen who question their sexuality?! Ending with Macklemore’s “Same Love” was a let-down programmatically as the chorus was relegated to simple vamps. Instead, the chorus should have opted for Mary Lambert’s more inclusive, less baggage-ridden “She Keeps Me Warm” and just altered the pronoun.

As artistic director, Dustin Cates has greatly improved the sound and overall musicianship of HMC. It was great to hear a variety of dynamics, better blend, and more complicated harmonies that had not been as fine tuned in past programs.