- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
On a Sunday afternoon this past May, All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunderland rang with the exhilarating sound of Patuxent Voices’ 2012 spring concert. Patuxent Voices is an a cappella group of 12 women who sing a diverse selection of music styles. Since its formation in 2004, the group has developed a repertoire of music from sacred choral works to contemporary popular hits.
PV, as it is affectionately known by the group members and friends, provides a visual experience as well as a musical one. The members wear period costumes and clothing for their presentations — well-staged, witty interpretations of their musical selections. Choral music generally is written or arranged for the full range of male and female voices, with women’s voices only in the soprano and contralto ranges.
PV’s clever vocal arrangements appear to encompass the lower male baritone registers. Their performances are a celebration of the female voice in all its variety, unadorned and unaccompanied. An instrumental accompaniment could only dilute its sweetness and tonal purity.
The group produces two concerts annually but performs them more than one time, in various venues. The spring 2012 concert was presented at the Calvert Marine Museum, at All Saints’ Wine Fest, and at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Mary’s City. The group also appears at all sorts of events throughout the year. PV will be appearing at Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center’s Artsfest later this summer.
This spring’s concert drew on the group’s wide stock of popular music for a program titled “Over the Rainbow,” a presentation drawn from decades of popular music from the 1940s through the 1960s.
In addition to giving a jaunty salute to these 40-plus years of American popular music, the performers provided a brief historical overview of each decade, highlighting some of the country’s concerns and interests of that period.
Dressed, coiffed and shod in clothing reminiscent of the 1940s and ‘50s, the entire group began its performance with a haunting rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Following this wistful musical memory of those troubled war years, PV member Karen Lowry, resplendent in a platinum blonde Marilyn Monroe-style wig, stepped forward to give a thumbnail history of the era. “Gas was15 cents a gallon. Love songs and ballads sung by female vocalists were popular in the 1940s because so many men were overseas on the warfronts in Europe and Asia.”
Individual members of the PV troupe solo in some numbers, with the rest of the troupe providing backup harmony and rhythm. In their prim little A-line ‘40s-style dresses, and their hair styled in long pageboy styles, or bobby-pin curls, members stepped up in turn to solo on two 1940s ballads. These songs, “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin and “My Romance” by Rogers and Hart, underscored the longings and melancholy of those years. PV members Sherrod Sturrock, Rebecca Whitaker, Linda Aughe, Amy Brackett, Karen Lowry, Lori Beth Sink, Laurel Dietz and Marcie Stone sang these nostalgic ballads with the poignancy the songs demand.
The tempo — and the interpretation — changed rapidly for the next two numbers. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” represented the defiant, upbeat spirit with which American soldiers entered the war, and jitterbugged to, in the USO recreation centers. Soloists Dietz, Whitaker and Aughe could have been channeling the Andrew Sisters on “Boogie,” complete with similar choreography to those original singers. Lisa Ghee’s strong contralto finessed the train whistle sound on her solo for “Chattanooga.”
The program segued into the 1950s. “This was the era of big All-American cars. Gas was 29 cents a gallon, and the country ‘Liked Ike.’ It was when teenagers began Rocking n’ Rolling,” Marcie Stone, in a red sheath dress, a double string of pearls and white gloves, summarized some historical trends of the ‘50s for the audience.
Four soloists, Linda Aughe, Laura Curran, Cynthia Gonzalez and Lisa Ghee, kicked off the set with “Mr. Sandman,” a huge hit for the girl quartets of the era. PV rocked on through “Rockin’ Robin” and “One Fine Day” and pouted through “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To),” with appropriate gestures, dance steps and posturing by the soloists for each number.
Amy Brackett, Rebecca Whitaker, Karen Lowry, Lori Beth Sink, Cynthia Gonzalez and Linda Aughe soloed, joined by the whole ensemble, in that teen anthem of the early rock years, “Under the Boardwalk,” with Lowry donning sunglasses for true beach atmosphere.
“Doo Wop and Soul started with the 1960s. Gas was 35 cents, and muscle cars appeared on the scene,” Sherrod Sturrock, clad in a retro pink, sleeveless mini-shift, informed the audience. PV moved from “Stand By Me,” with Dietz’s sweet, strong soprano in a solo passage, to pay homage to the era with renditions of songs by singers who were icons of the ‘60s: Otis Redding, Carol King, Stoller and Lieber, Lennon and McCartney. The concert ended with a rousing tribute to Aretha Franklin, led by Linda Aughe’s vibrant voice in “Respect.”
PV doesn’t charge admission for their concerts, but does ask for free will donations. The group is organized as an educational nonprofit and has federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. This nonprofit status is awarded only to those organizations that provide a significant educational value to the public.
The concert program was designed not only to entertain, but also to provide a historical snapshot of the country’s culture through 40 years. The audience included several pre-teens, who listened to the entire concert without fidgeting and seemed to enjoy it as much as the adults.
Several members of the current 12-member PV ensemble are music professionals and teach in area schools. Cynthia Gonzales, the group’s originator, had been singing “all her life” and didn’t want to stop, so she, Lisa Ghee and Laurel Dietz gathered four other like-minded women musicians to form the initial seven-member Patuxent Voices ensemble. Dietz is PV’s musical director and serves as the supervisor of Fine Arts at St. Mary’s College. All the members have other jobs and busy lives. “We like to call ourselves amateur professionals,” said Gonzalez.
However it chooses to characterize itself, PV produced a wonderful sound and informative entertainment that Sunday afternoon. It’s planning its winter 2012 concert of sacred music for mid-December. The date and location for this concert is not set at this time, but the group’s website has additional information at www.patuxentvoices.org. PV also has a Facebook page, which has many photos of the group in costume and props, such as a candy apple red vintage car. This group believes in serious fun, while being seriously passionate about its music.