Spring Songs

Performers give voice to vocal music of all kinds

The birds aren’t the only ones raising their voices to celebrate spring’s arrival. The Shedd’s annual Vocal Arts Festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday, April 4-7, again brings in folk-oriented performers and even more important, inspires our own young amateur song lovers. 

The headliners are again Honey Whiskey Trio — California music teachers Courtney Gasque, Ann Louise Jeffries Thaiss and Christina Wilson — whose Friday, April 5, show includes folk, bluegrass and its own original tunes, delivered with its signature ebullience. On Saturday, April 6, the group hosts local vocal ensembles Inspirational Sounds, Mind The Gap, The Great Eugene Chorus, and The Eugene Gleemen in an even wider-ranging songfest. Whether you’re interested in just listening or maybe in someday joining up, check out some of our homegrown options.

It’s great to listen to songs, of course, but anyone who’s sung in choirs or other vocal groups knows there’s no joy quite as exhilarating as joining in song with people around you. The Trio also runs a 6 pm Thursday, April 4, workshop that invites locals of any experience level to join them in shape-note singing and body percussion. 

The sweet singing continues Sunday, April 7, at Springfield’s Wildish Theater with Eugene Vocal Arts celebrating spring and Earth Day with contemporary songs about our environment by two of today’s hottest and most performed choral composers — Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen and California’s Eric Whitacre — plus the next generation’s most acclaimed stars, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds and Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, and one of Oregon’s own finest composers for voice, Portland’s Joan Szymko.

The words they’ll be singing come from Sierra Club founder John Muir, the ever-amusing Ogden Nash, the great American novelist James Agee, poet Sara Teasdale, and the writer whose words about nature have inspired so many, Wendell Berry. The concert, accompanied by pianist Camilla Carter, repeats next Friday, April 12, at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. 

Any actual voice will be missing from The Marriage of Figaro at Sunday afternoon’s microphilharmonic concert at The Shedd. Instead of arias, you’ll hear an arrangement for wind ensemble of Mozart’s music for his magnificent opera, one of many made during and after his time, no doubt because the composer’s immortal melodies were too irresistible to be confined to the expensive opera stage.

That’s evident in the other piece on the program, Mozart’s big Serenade in C minor, written expressly for wind instruments. Serenades at the time were often written as background music for social occasions like garden parties. But the mature Mozart was incapable of triviality even in such functional music, and this nearly symphonic score presents one memorable tune — sometimes dark and dramatic, sometimes cheery — after another.

If it’s more vocals you want at The Shedd, you can certainly hear them April 12-14 when Shirley Andress re-creates the early sound of one of 20th-century pop’s most distinctive voices. Using actual set lists from Barbra Streisand’s 1960-64 nightclub performances, and abetted by pianist Vicki Brabham’s septet, Andress will sing Streisand’s early hits (including numbers from her breakthrough Funny Girl) and tell stories about her rise to fame.

The Shedd returns to folk music on Wednesday, April 7, when Väsen (nyckelharpa player Olav Johansson, guitarist Roger Tallroth and violist Mikael Marin) return to perform their fizzy, danceable blend of traditional and original Swedish power folk music, no doubt including tunes from their potent 2018 album Brewed

Women’s creative voices have often been stifled in classical music, like everywhere else, so even though International Women’s Day is past, it’s great to see female composers finally starting to get their due, at least in chamber music.

Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest devoted much of its 2017 summer festival to women-made classical music past and present, and April 15, Chamber Music Amici contributes to redressing the imbalance with first-rate music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. If you liked the Eugene Symphony’s recent performance of music by one of today’s leading American composers, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, you’ll no doubt admire her colorful 2003 Piano Trio, whose movements reflect their respective titles: the beautifully placid, Aaron Copland-style “Pale Yellow” and the incendiary “Fiery Red.” The concert also features an 1834 string quartet by that other Mendelssohn, Fanny, whose brother Felix regarded as a talent equal to his own, and Amy Beach’s ardent late Romantic 1938.