It's a funny thing about us Americans. For 364 days of the year we cuss the politicians, grouse about the bureaucracy, grow apoplectic over the national debt and elevate our blood pressure by bemoaning a thousand other shortcomings.
But on the Fourth of July we get weepy over "America the Beautiful" and clap our hands to our hearts during "The Star Spangled Banner." Could it be because deep down we know that we live in the greatest country in the world - and collectively speaking, we are the luckiest people alive?It's easy to see yourself in that light at a pops concert such as Utah Symphony is purveying this weekend. Patriotic tunes, catchy American rhythms and nostalgic barber-shop sentiments fill the air as Robert Henderson plays the genial host and the Mountain Jubilee Chorus sing out loud and clear, ticking off our blessings.
Not least of these is a bunch of ruggedly individual composers who cranked out a sort of pops and show tune that's been the envy of the world for a century. Such songs make up the offering of the singers, who fully entertain their listeners with stylized versions of such music as "America the Beautiful" in Carmen Dragon's full-voiced arrangement, "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and "Chatanooga Choo-Choo." There's the tear-jerking "So Long Mother, Kiss Your Boy Goodbye" and "I'm Proud to be an American," a swingy bit of chauvinism.
Throughout these and more, the singers are at the top of their form vocally and stylistically, expressing totally, body and soul, phrasing beautifully and fully exploiting the dynamics. Nor is a word ever lost in some of the greatest diction around.
In this appearance and elsewhere, the Sweet Adelines are a lot of fun. They do what our mothers used to encourage us to do - they "sing out." They enjoy being girls, they make the most of their femi-ninity, and they do not hesitate to express sentiment. Theirs is a total commitment to putting a song across.
Symphonically there is much to offer in a program that has enough unfamiliar touches mixed with the well known. Charles Ives' Variations on "America" show off the idiosyncratic wiles of this New England original, from the wistful and simple to off-the-wall effects that suggested Spike Jones. And Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances displays the master arranger's art in Cake Walk, Schottische, Western One Step and Rag, if not any great melodic genius.
There are a few good marches on this program - the American Salute by Gould, based on "When Johnnie Comes Marching Home," and Bagley's National Emblem March, with reference to the national anthem. Horns were in good estate all evening, as all orchestral voices joined in enthusiastic rapport.
Listeners enjoyed "Grand and Dandy George," an arrangement of George M. Cohan tunes made awhile back by Ricklen Nobis and Henderson under the spur of necessity, which makes a clear and lucid orchestral statement. Also enjoyable was an old-fashioned singalong of Gay Nineties hits, although few could really remember the words, a discouraging development for those of us who remembered them all too well.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic," even when arranged by the excellent Wilhousky, still lacks somewhat for women's voices only, no matter how well sung. Nonetheless it closed the concert with a certain flourish.