Sunday, March 13, 2011


Feeling pummeled and over-stimulated by modern media? In particular, do you long for a richer, more meaningful and exalted musical experience than American Idol? (Present season excepted, of course; go James!)

Wouldn't you love to return to days of yore when music was unplugged and awe-inspiring?

Well, you won't need Mr. Peabody's Way-back machine to experience the grandeur of vintage music sung live onstage when our very own Santa Cruz Chorale teams up with guest chorus the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble next Sunday, March 20, for a live concert at Holy Cross Church.

Be prepared to bask in lush choral music from five centuries; program will include selections from Renaissance/Baroque composer Antonio Lotti to Johann M. Haydn, and Johannes Brahms, from Anton Bruckner to special arrangements of folk songs from America, Canada, and South Africa.

Now in its 28th year, the Santa Cruz Chorale is currently under the direction of Christian Grube, formerly of Berlin University of Arts. It's a community-based volunteer adult chorus made up of ordinary local folk with an extraordinary passion for music. A recent addition to the group is my friend Bill Raney, founder and former owner of the Nickelodeon Theater, and author of the travel memoir Letters To Zerky. Which only goes to prove that however much you have going on in your life, you can always make room for one more activity you love.

Btw, there's nothing like hearing vocal music as the gods intended, live and in person. When Art Boy and I were in France for the first time a few years back, we and our traveling companions visited Chartres Cathedral on a Monday in June. The town of Chartres is a jumble of stone cottages, timbered houses, and cinderblock apartments crammed together on the steep hills leading up to the cathedral. (All cathedrals in Europe were built on high hilltops to impress centuries of pilgrims and penitents with their proximity to God.)

Despite the unusual volume of cars and tour buses parked every which way in every side street and alley, we found an available stretch of curbside and parked at the foot of a steep cobbled lane. Up we trudged in the late afternoon sun, the looming Gothic spires of the cathedral always visible up ahead in the spaces between the buildings crowding the lane on both sides. And as we ascended, glorious medieval chants came wafting down from on high, like a chorus of angels. How atmospheric, I thought; they're piping out chants for the tourists.

But I was wrong—blissfully, rapturously wrong. As we gained the square facing the cathedral, we saw a robed chorus singing live in the churchyard adjoining the cathedral, moved outside to make room for the thousands of faithful crowding inside for the service. Pagans that we are, we had unknowingly stumbled into Pentecost Monday at one of the greatest pilgrimage destinations in all of Europe.

Pentecost commemorates the moment the Apostles were seized with the Holy Spirit.And as we all stood there, bathed in sublime, centuries-old choral music, I knew just how they felt. Swept up in such music, you don't have to be an Apostle, nor even a Christian, to feel a little Holy Spirit.

Showtime for the Santa Cruz Chorale and the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble is 4 pm, Sunday, March 20, at Holy Cross Church. Click here for ticket info and get in the spirit.

(Above: All roads lead to the cathedral in Chartres.)

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