Santa Clara Chorale’s “We, The People” Honors the Diversity of America

Story and Photos by Diane Andrews

Santa Clara Chorale Artistic Director Scot Hanna-Weir’s selection of music for “We, The People” is a stirring tribute to the diversity of America. The concert, which opened March 2 at Grace Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, will be presented a second and final time on March 10, 7:30 p.m., at Mission Santa Clara.

The program includes songs that are both musically and linguistically diverse. African-American spirituals, jazz, gospel and folk songs are sung in English, Hebrew, Arabic, East Indian, and Chinese.

“There is no culture that doesn’t have a singing tradition,” said Hanna-Weir. “Singing is an opportunity to learn about other traditions and appreciate and celebrate them.”

“The music is inspiring,” said audience member Jane Hiatt from Los Gatos. “It sounds challenging to have to do all those languages!”

The linguistic diversity and knowledge of the singers in the 80-person community chorale, a nonprofit founded in 1962, facilitates the Chorale’s mastery of the pronunciation of non-English lyrics.

Soprano Sue Yuen, from Taiwan, helped with pronunciation and set the cultural context for two Chinese folk songs.

Yuen explained that “Fengyang Song” is a traditional folk song from the Anhui province of eastern China, where her maternal grandmother is from.

“She and my mother sang this song to me when I was growing up,” said Yuen. “It is heartwarming and precious to continue this oral tradition in a choral setting and share this music with new audiences of young and old. These songs get lost, so I try to sing them to my son.”

“Scott programs interesting music for us. It keeps us engaged,” said first alto Jo Volkert. “We bring more than classical music to audiences. We bring a variety of genres.”

About 40 members of the choir of Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, Palo Alto, directed by Angelina Fitzhugh, took part in the March 2 concert (but are not performing on March 10).

“It’s an honor for us to be invited and a great experience for the students to sing with adults. It’s their first time ever,” said Fitzhugh. “Our school is very supportive in music and arts, and it shows in the students’ dedication.”

Each year the Santa Clara Chorale invites a different youth choir to participate in its March concert.

“We want to make sure that a whole new generation is enjoying choral music,” said Hanna-Weir.

Like the Chorale song list, the school list also was linguistically diverse, with songs in English, Bulgarian, Native American and Swahili. Seventh grader Rylie Phillips-Stock is in the school choir.

“Some songs are challenging, but we do it (sing in different languages) often,” said Phillips-Stock. “I like singing with my friends in a big group. It’s easier to know what your note is when you sing with friends. It’s a fun experience—you can make a lot of friends while doing something you enjoy.”

The concert opened in patriotic tribute to America with the “Star Spangled Banner” and closed with “America the Beautiful” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” featuring the combined voices of youth and adults, accompanied by pianist Dan Cromeenes.

“The Chorale members are musically talented and culturally aware,” said Hanna-Weir. “The concerts are about trying to bring music to life. It’s about how awesome this music is and how it can touch us. People walk away with an appreciation of what the music has to say and what it’s able to communicate with them.”

In one performance only—May 12, 7:30 p.m.—the Santa Clara Chorale, together with the Santa Clara University Choirs and the San José Chamber Orchestra, will perform a baroque masterpiece, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion,” featuring Grammy-winner Dan Coakwell as the Evangelist.

Visit www.scc.org for Chorale and concert information.