Russian choir gets Pa. concert series started on good note

September 19, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - There was a slightly awkward moment during Sunday's performance by the Russian State Chorus when conductor Igor Raevski motioned for the audience to join in singing "America (The Beautiful)."

Awkward, that is, for the audience, because most Americans' familiarity with Katharine Lee Bates' lyrics ends with the first stanza, while the Russians sang their way through several more. The crowd of several hundred in the auditorium of Chambersburg Area Senior High School did much better with the last number by the chorus, Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

Formed 65 years ago, the Moscow-based, 42-voice chorus performed mostly Russian folk songs, including "Volga Boat Song," one of the few that most Americans could identify by ear, if not by title. The concert also featured Italian works and one other foray into American popular music, George Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm."


"This was great. The voice control was superb," said J. Richard McCurdy of Chambersburg.

"You almost wonder how the human voice can imitate some of those sounds," Walt Oliver of Chambersburg said of the a capella performance.

"It makes the tears run," said his wife, Annalou.

The concert was the first of four scheduled for the 2005-06 season by the Chambersburg Community Concert Association, said its president, Shirley Jones. The next concert is Jan. 30, when the Newstead Trio performs, but association members do not have to wait that long to take in a show.

The association has agreements with community concert associations in Gettysburg and Waynesboro, Pa., Westminster, Md., and Hagerstown, Jones said.

"In total, it allows you to attend 20-some concerts," she said.

Waynesboro's association will host The Coats, an a capella vocal group, Thursday, according to the schedule.

Memberships start at $10 for students and $35 for adults and people can join any time during the season, Jones said. Membership Secretary Gretchen E. Mackey, said the Chambersburg association has about 750 members.

The Russians did not come cheap, Jones said. Putting on the concert cost the association $17,500, Jones said. The association, now in its 66th year, depends on the annual membership fees to pay for the concerts, she said.

The chorus is on a monthlong nationwide tour that started Sept. 14 and will take it all the way to San Francisco and Los Angeles, said the group's tour manager and interpreter, Michael Arutyunov of Brooklyn, N.Y.

William Ellison of Frederick, Md., said his wife was likely among the first to see the group outside of the former Soviet Union. Gerd Ellison, a native of Norway, said she even remembered the chorus singing one of the same songs, "An Evening Ring," from a 1945 concert in Oslo.

"It's bringing back quite a few memories," she said.

Information on association memberships is available by calling Mackey at 717-264-7025.

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