Peace, Love, and the Bay Choral Guild

No, the latest offering by Bay Choral Guild was not program of favorites from Woodstock.  The title of last Friday’s concert, “Peace and Love” alludes to the works that made up the program.  The concert we attended was the first of three over this last weekend in Campbell, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.

The “Peace” part of the program was an original composition by BCG Artistic Director and Conductor Sanford Dole, “The Fabric of Peace.”  This in turn is composed of five smaller pieces based on a wide variety of texts, from the Rig Veda to the poetry of Bay Area poet Elisabeth Eliassen.  Personally, I love to see texts from wildly divergent sources juxtaposed in order to heighten their commonalities.  In this case it was an effective way to treat a topic like “peace” which has (let’s be honest) been so heavily  schmaltzed, sugar-coated, and trivialized that it can be hard to take seriously as a subject of art.

However, there are apparetly still some bold souls out there, because this piece was commissioned by the Oakland Symphony Chorus to be performed at their 50th anniversary gala concert.  The musical style is quite contemporary, almost jazzy in places.  And yet each piece was distinct in form, theme, and execution. With one exception, the theme leaned heavily toward unity, which for me was a refreshing change from other treatments of this topic I have seen in the past.  My only quibble with this particular performance is that some of the denser, tighter contemporary harmonies used in many of the pieces made it difficult to pick out lyrics.  This is especially hard when you have a large group.  That said, allowances must be made for the acoustics of the Campbell United Methodist Church chapel, where the performance took place.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, the acoustics are adequate, but not ideal for choral music.

There is one piece, however, that deserves special mention, and that is “The Exercise of Singing” based on a text by William Byrd and even borrows a line or two from the music of Byrd’s Mass in Four Voices. This delightful text describes the benefits and virtues of teaching people how to sing.  While not strictly in keeping with the theme of “The Fabric of Peace”, it was still a delightful diversion and would do well performed as a separate work in its own right.

The “Love” part of the concert comes courtesy of Johannes Brahms’ “Liebeslieder” (Opus 52), a collection of eighteen short songs whose texts reflect the range of love’s fancies, follies, and frustrations.  The program ended by another Brahms work, “Neue Liebeslieder”, Opus 65.

As with all Bay Choral Guild performances, this one was a fun program ably performed.  The printed program distributed to concert-goers gives a list of upcoming concerts, and this season promises to be as enjoyable as those of previous years.  This is a group that deserves your generous support.  I noted that the 2009-2010 season was made possible in part by a generous donation by choir member Stephen Kispersky in honor of his parents.  Mr. Kispersky was featured as a soloist during the Brahms Liebeslieder “Nicht wandle, mein Licht” which says well of someone who is willing to put his mouth where his money is.

To learn more about Bay Choral Guild and their upcoming concers, or to make a donation, visit their web site at

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