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Mastersingers look to the future


The parking lot at the Pine Island United Methodist Church was already full this afternoon when I arrived for the concert of the Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers.  The chorus presented The Future of Music in the crowded sanctuary. As I squeezed into a pew, I felt a wave of nostalgia since I recognized so many of the singers from past musical collaborations in other choruses.

The program began and concluded with selections by the 70 or so singers. Sandwiched in between were pieces sung by the newly formed City of Palms Youth Choir.

Jeff Faux, the conductor of the adult chorus, told the audience they were about to hear the works the Mastersingers will perform this summer in Spain.  The first was  “O Quam Gloriosum” by Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria. The second piece, “Holy Radiant Light” by Russian composer Alexandre  Gretchaninoff, made good use of the strong bass section.

The mostly high school age youth chorus had excellent balance. I was particularly impressed with their final, non-sibilant “s” diction. To my ears, the music chosen by director Matt Koller leaned a bit too heavily toward the Eric Whitaker-esque. A South African mashup of “Siyahamba” and “Ipharadisi” was different and welcome. The syncopation was nicely done and the singers’ musicality was evident. A chorus of seven middle school girls had their own section. Their songs were unison, soprano sweetness. How I wish I’d had the opportunity to sing Britten at that age.

The Mastersingers also give several scholarships each year to provide private singing lessons to promising youngsters. One of the recipients, Makayla Davis, a high school junior, sang an aria from Don Giovanni looking every bit like a diva in the making. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The concluding numbers showed the power of such a large number of voices singing in eight parts. Faux proclaimed “The Conversion of Saul” by Z. Randall Stroope the strangest piece he has ever conducted. It is Stroope who is heading the Barcelona festival to which the chorus is heading. After an opening sounding a little like it could have come from the taverna of Carmina Burana, the music had its own conversion from raucous to uplifting.

I applaud the Mastersingers for its commitment to the youth choir. The future of music is in good hands.




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Harp music heralds the season


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My husband and I spent a restful hour at the Pine Island Library this afternoon listening to seasonal music played on the harp by Barbara Fischer. Fischer teaches harp and piano in Fort Myers.  Her mother is also a harpist.

The selection of music was certainly eclectic. Pieces that I would consider typical for the harp such as “What Child Is This?” and “Coventry Carol” were interspersed with Great American Songbook-style tunes such as “White Christmas” and “Christmas Waltz.” Fischer even included a jazzy version of “Santa Baby” and the mellow Charlie Brown theme “Christmas Time Is Here.” Most if not all of these were Fischer’s own arrangements.

For her rendition of “Jingle Bells,” Fischer enlisted three volunteers from the audience as her auxiliary percussion section. The rest of the audience participated in a singalong.

Her commentary between songs was humorous and informative. We learned the history of the music she chose and also something of the mechanics of the harp itself.

We left the library full of good will toward men. Bravo to the Lee County Library System for providing such a warm start to the holidays.

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White Christmas review



If the holidays fill you with nostalgia for the sweeter, simpler days of yesteryear, White Christmas at the Broadway Palm will be just your cup of eggnog. The show is brimming with sequined costumes, tapping feet, and corny dialogue.

It’s also filled with the music of Irving Berlin, and no matter how sophisticated we may think we are, we still long for nothing but blue skies.

Most people have seen the movie version with Bing Crosby a time or two, so the plot holds no surprises. Old Army buddies pitch in to help their former general save his failing inn. It’s meant to be heart warming, and it succeeds.

The four leads in this production are strong performers. Troy Bruchwalski’s voice is almost too big for the part of Bob Wallace, if such a thing is possible. His counterpart Katherine Walker Hill smolders in “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” in a gown and gloves I thought more reminiscent of Rita Hayworth than Rosemary Clooney. Sami Doherty and Nic Casaula are as cute and energetic as new puppies on Christmas morning.

The supporting cast adds to the fun. Kiersten Benzing and Morgan McGhee are a riot as mismatched “twins.” Pauline Cobrda belts with the best of them as the inn’s manager. Young Megan Salerno was perfect as her mini me. And local favorite Victor Legarreta, called upon to play the laconic handyman on the night I was in the audience, drew laughs with each shuffle across the stage accompanied by a Vermont-esque “Ayuh.”

If the stress of the season starts to get to you, take a break from reality and party like it’s 1954. The show runs through Christmas Day. Call 239.278.4422 for tickets.

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Nothing New Under the Sun



Having seen a touring company of Evita many years ago, I couldn’t wait to find out how Broadway Palm would handle such a big production. What I found was that watching the spectacle unfold from the closer perspective of a relatively small venue gave me an even greater appreciation.

The two leads, April Monte as Eva and Mark Alpert as Che, spit out Tim Rice’s reams of fast paced lyrics with stunningly precise articulation. And what do those biting lyrics reveal?  An elite ruling class looking down its collective nose at an outsider, money flooding into a charitable foundation with only a trickle reaching its intended recipients, potential leaders of government playing an increasingly frantic game of musical chairs to see which one can seize power. Does the phrase “ripped from the headlines” ring a bell?

Chris Trimboli and James Rio give solid performances as Magaldi, Eva’s first stepping stone to fame, and Peron, her last. Sarah Cammarata has a sweet, clear voice as Peron’s mistress, kicked to the curb when Eva moves in.

The action on stage was Dancing with the Stars meets My Fair Lady meets West Side Story meets Les Miz. With limited space and lots of people to move around, choreographer Amy Marie McCleary  did a great job using an eclectic mix of styles. Kudos also to costume designer John P. White. Eva on the balcony in that iconic jewel encrusted white ball gown is breathtaking. I got a chuckle from Eva’s literal revolving door of lovers courtesy of scenic designer Evan Adamson.

Will Prather made a brilliant choice to run this show at the height of our election circus. It runs until November 19. Call 239.278.4422.

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Music for a Sunday Afternoon


I live quite a distance from FGCU, so when the opportunity arose to hear two of the Bower School of Music’s ensembles in Cape Coral, I was in. The Jazz Ensemble led by Brandon Robertson and the Symphonic Band led by Troy Jones presented a concert at Ida Baker High School to a disappointingly small audience. With no admission fee, this should have drawn a full house.

A professional jazz musician with a master’s in jazz studies from FSU, Robertson is newly arrived from Tallahassee. He chose “September in the Rain” to begin his group’s section of the afternoon’s program since it has, he related, rained every day in September since he moved here.

His 15 musicians were joined by vocalist Marlina Karimi in the next three songs. Karimi has a mature sound for a college student and a wide range. The band threatened to drown her out periodically, but she held her own.

The final piece in the first half was “Billie’s Bounce” by jazz icon Charlie Parker. It featured solos by pianist Jose Cordero, saxophonist Isaiah Suriel, Trumpeter Andrew Heavener, vibraphonist Sean Stolliker, and bassist Matthew Nevarez.

The Symphonic Band kicked off the second half with “Jubilant Overture” by Alfred Reed, a work that put me in mind of Bernstein’s “Candide Overture.” Back from a sabbatical, Jones provided interesting commentary on each of his selections, all of which he related to joy or triumph.

After the buoyancy of the first number came a more controlled and reflective piece called “Sheltering Sky.” Extra notes added to the chord structure gave a modern slant. The mood changed again into a bombastic work, “Khan” as in Genghis. It evoked Asia from the opening note and featured lots of drums and a gong. One more pivot gave us “Galop,” sort of a frantic polka by Shostakovich.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Information about upcoming concerts is at http://www.fgcu.edu/cas/bsma.

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Rockin’ and Groovin’ at Broadway Palm



Broadway Palm’s latest show, Yesterday’s, (and why is that apostrophe in there anyway?) is a pastiche of music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, one act of each. The six performers confess at the top of the show that they are too young to remember any of what they’re about to sing and dance to. Most of the audience, however, grew up with this music, and some, like me, probably found themselves singing along or at least mouthing the lyrics every once in a while.

The high-energy company comprises Ilana Gabrielle, Rachael Haber, Housso Semon, Keith McCoy, Scott James Smith, and Christopher Violett subbing for Jesse Michels. They kick the evening off as a group and then splinter off into soloing in clusters of songs with themes such as unrequited love and dueling Elvi. Semon and McCoy are standouts in a juxtaposition of “Sixteen Tons” with “Fever” complete with mood lighting.  Smith channels Bobby Darin in “Mack the Knife”  and Violett croons “Mona Lisa” so well that the lady herself projected on a screen behind him breaks into a toothy grin.  Clad by turns in pedal pushers, crinolines, and white sports coats with pink carnations, the whole bunch twists, ponies, and swims across the stage and into the audience.

Act Two starts with a short tribute to the Beatles. Then it’s guy versus gal groups in several Motown standards. Haber shows off her comedic flair in “You Don’t Own Me” and Gabrielle is a show stopper with her rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.”  With a psychedelic background and the talented orchestra decked out in tie dye, the show concludes with a peace, love, and brotherhood segment.

Personally, I recall the ‘60s as being grittier than what is shown here. The Rolling Stones and their ilk are absent.  And Woodstock included some biting anti-war sentiments along with all that Aquarian harmony. I guess creator and writer Victor Legarretta didn’t want to risk causing anyone to get indigestion.  Even though Yesterday’s is a sanitized version of the era, it hits enough high points to satisfy the urge to reminisce.

The show runs until October 8. Call 239.278.4422 for tickets.


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Celebrating freedom



The annual Midsummer Hymn Sing that Sam Galloway, Jr., puts together got a makeover this year. He wanted to prolong Independence Day, and the result was First Celebrates Freedom. The pews at First Presbyterian Church on Second Street in downtown Fort Myers were filled nearly to capacity.

The evening began with a procession down the center aisle of Lee County Guns and Hoses Pipes and Drums. Fort Myers Fire Department and Tice Fire District Color Guard presented the American flag. You have not heard “God Bless America” until you have heard it played by 11 pipers piping.

Soloists for the evening were Beth Filowich and Michael Broyles  The Freedom Choir, made up the First’s own choir supplemented by additional singers, led the audience in many secular and sacred singalong pieces ranging from  ”Yankee Doodle Dandy” to “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” They also gave a stirring rendition of Wilhousky’s oft-performed arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

A quartet of young men calling themselves The Shrugs brought the audience to its feet with two barbershop numbers.

Money raised at this event goes to the Soup Kitchen of Community Cooperative Ministries. In keeping with the patriotic theme, Chief Executive Officer Tracey Galloway, Sam’s daughter-in-law, told about services her organization provides to veterans. The statistics she cited regarding homeless veterans were heartbreaking. Bravo to CCMI for all they do.

What a wonderful idea, what a wonderful cause, what a wonderful evening.