The Angel City Chorale is ringing in the holiday season this weekend with tunes like “Hannukah Lullaby” and “Gloria in Excelsis.”
The Angel City Chorale, a Los Angeles-based choir, is performing its annual holiday show at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Koreatown until Sunday night. This year’s performance, “A New Home for the Holidays,“ features a variety of musical styles that aim to mirror Los Angeles’ cultural diversity, said Sue Fink, the group’s founder and artistic director.
“We foster diversity in many different ways,” Fink said. “We have the classical singers and then we have the … gospel-R&B singers, and we have people that at one time wanted to be pop singers and decided to live other lives.”
Angel City Chorale stands out from other choral groups in the city because the members get to help in the song selection process, which contributes to the diversity of their shows, said Alexandra Apolloni, a UCLA alumna and member of Angel City Chorale. Past shows have included interactive pieces that involve the audience using phone applications and sounds from NASA instruments in space. “A New Home for the Holidays” is also interactive, allowing audience members to join in for singalongs as phone screens light up with colors that correspond to the lights of the show and the music.
On Saturday night, the choir filled the front of the church and performed between two stone columns lit with festively colored stage lights that changed from green to red to blue as the show progressed. The members wore all black with red accents in the form of bows, bauble earrings and pins, and ranged in age, race, experience level and musical style.
Fink said the Angel City Chorale is a diverse group of singers that consists of people ranging in age from 20 to 88. It was founded in 1993 when it performed at its first holiday show with only 18 singers. However, this year’s show is much larger, with 160 members and a 20- to 30-piece orchestra.
The show began with a bright carol, but quickly transitioned into a rendition of “Gloria in Excelsis” with a more traditional choral sound. The group continued to sing with the choral tone through the next two songs, which were softer and more somber than the initial carol.
Next, the choir went in a different direction and took a pop twist on a classical French choral piece, “Bring a Torch,” which was originally composed in 1553. The choir swayed to the music and garnered loud applause from the audience before ending the first half with the song “O Holy Night,” lit by a soft purple hue against the stone, leaving the audience still and silent.
“It’s such a variety of musical styles, you know there’s something for everybody,” said Barbara Miller, a UCLA alumna and member of Angel City Chorale. “I think we can all appreciate something about each other’s music no matter where we’re from, no matter what our backgrounds are.”
The holiday show consists of several different styles of music, including pop, classical and a cappella numbers. Fink said she thinks the show differs from other holiday shows in Los Angeles because it is so spontaneous and varied.
The second half of the show was as musically diverse as the first. The first two songs featured smaller ensembles of about 20 people. One of the groups performed a jazzy version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” combining traditional choral sounds with scat singing, a form of improvisational vocalizing meant to resemble instrumental sounds.
“Sometimes it can be hard to kind of go from one style to another really suddenly, so you have to really be on your game and be ready to make that shift,” Apolloni said.
Fink composed the fourth song of the second half entitled “Hanukkah Lullaby” along with Denny Wynbrandt, a member of Angel City Chorale, specifically for this year’s holiday performance. The piece began with soft acoustic guitar, reminiscent of a folk sound, but quickly transitioned into pop with uplifting overtones meant to match Fink’s vision for the piece.
Fink said she wrote the piece as way to help people remain resilient even in hard times. The lyrics allude to the original story of Hanukkah and describe candles being lit to ward off the darkness with lines like: “You won’t give in when hope all around you falls,” and “You’re small but strong.”
“I want people to walk away feeling better than when they walked in,” Fink said. “I think we’re living in kind of a scary political time and I think people especially right now want to see joy and diversity celebrated, not denigrated.”