Just the Right Note

Romantic music from Brahms to Broadway


Even after the mildest of winters, something about spring makes you want to burst into song. Revel in the feeling by attending the Jamestown Community Chorus’ upcoming concert. Titled “Isn’t It Romantic?” and billed as “selections from (mostly) Brahms and Broadway,” the program promises lovely music, soaring voices and a light and lively spirit suited to the season.

Music director B.J. Whitehouse delights in eclectic musical programming. Since assuming the position in ’89, he has conducted close to 50 concerts for the group, ranging from the most serious of Classical compositions to the zaniest of Gilbert & Sullivan scores. But he considers 19th century German composer Johannes Brahms to be his all-time favorite. Riffing off the idea of the Romantic period, an era more about emotion and expression than romance per se, Whitehouse’s set list for the spring concert couples Brahms’ work with 20th and 21st century love songs by the likes of Rodgers & Hart and Sting.

Whitehouse loves his role in the chorus, especially “pushing people a little further musically than they thought they could go.” He notes that the group doesn’t shy away from difficult works, and the spring show features a number of them. He also recognizes the commitment involved for the 50-odd choral members, all volunteers, to rehearse each Monday night from January to May in preparation. So he tries to make meetings fun and not to waste anyone’s time. He says, “As soon as bring my hands down at our first rehearsal, I start listening to what the blend is, what the sound is, and what I can do.”

The program for “Isn’t It Romantic?” gives poetry lovers reason to coo, too. Benjamin Britten’s “Evening Primrose” sets to music a poem by 18th century English poet John Clare. William Sterndale Bennett gives flight to the tender words of Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” And the group sings two different composers’ takes on James Agee’s poem, “Sure on the Shining Night.” Chorus president Dorothy Strang reports, “As a choral singer, I have been taught that rhythm comes first. Then the words. Finally, the notes, which will take care of themselves. That may be a bit of hyperbole but, in this JCC concert, getting the words right is essential and delightful.”

Jessica Wilson, a reference librarian in Peace Dale, sings first soprano and serves as the group’s publicity director. She joined the chorus in ’06 after attending a concert and noticing, as she says folks often do, how much fun the singers appeared to be having. With a welcoming atmosphere, diversity of experience levels, and music that “stretches us,” Wilson found the chorus even more enjoyable than expected. She also discovered that a strong sense of fellowship accompanies each concert. She explains, “We’ve built something, we’ve produced it, and that creates a bond between people.”

The spring concert gives audience members a chance to chime in, with a sing-along of old standards from the American songbook. And if you love the experience, consider joining – the chorus is open to everyone who attends the first rehearsal of the season. “I think that this type of activity brings out the best in people, whether you’re going to be in the audience or in the chorus,” director Whitehouse declares. As for the rewards involved, he laughs. “You ever sung Brahms? We get a bunch of people together and we get to sing Brahms. I mean, c’mon. What gets better than that?”

The Jamestown Community Chorus performs "Isn't It Romantic?" May 5-6. 99 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown. Call 423-1574 for more info.