Something Sacred, Something Wild

The North Coast Choral Artists, led by artistic director Rachel Samet, will present a distinctive and inspiring choral program called "Something Sacred, Something Wild" at the beautiful Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka. There will be two performances, one on Saturday, June 29th at 7:00 p.m. and the other on Sunday, June 30th at 4:00 p.m. Tickets will be available for $20 cash at the door.

The North Coast Choral Artists is a unique musical program where the singers work together for only two weeks from the first rehearsal through the final performance. This intensive musical experience allows for the cultivation of a strong sense of community, especially since the singers rehearse together for four evenings a week during the two week period. And because North Coast Choral Artists is specifically designed for experienced choral singers, the group is able to achieve a very high level of artistry within this short period of time.

This year's program includes chestnuts of choral repertoire such as Randall Thompson's “Alleluia,” Gabriel Fauré's “Cantique de Jean Racine,” and the first movement of Leonard Bernstein's “Chichester Psalms.” The program also includes newer works by contemporary composers like Moira Smiley, Sara Quartel, and Jake Runestad. The music ranges from the deeply personal and intimate, including Knut Nystedt's stunning “Immortal Bach,” to music that is exuberant and playful, such as Eric Whitacre's “Animal Crackers.”

A DreamMaker Program of The Ink People, the North Coast Choral Artists was founded by Rachel Samet in 2019 as an intensive choral workshop featuring 40 dedicated local singers. In 2020, the workshop was put on hold indefinitely, finally being revived this summer with over 50 outstanding local choral singers slated to participate.

"I am so excited that we are finally back!" says Samet. "We had a great experience in 2019 and I believe that this summer's group of singers is particularly strong. I am looking forward to delving into this program with these talented musicians.”

North Coast Choral Artists has evolved from Samet's work at Cal Poly Humboldt, where she is the Director of Choirs. One of the ensembles there, Humboldt Chorale, is made up of both students and community members, and many singers have expressed interest in continuing to sing over the summer when the university choirs do not meet. Since the first iteration of NCCA in 2019, the number of community members involved in Humboldt Chorale has skyrocketed. Many of these singers are highly experienced and some of the top singers in the community.

"I wanted to create a summer intensive program for these singers in a 'work hard, play hard' kind of experience," says Samet. I am so glad to finally bring NCCA back this summer as it was originally intended to be an annual event. I’ve got a fantastic program planned! The singers receive their scores about two weeks before our first rehearsal, and they prepare on their own as much as they are able before the first rehearsal. Their advance preparation and dedication makes all the difference in accelerating the choir’s progress during this short rehearsal period."

Samet has lived in Humboldt since 2015, when she moved here to teach music and direct the choirs at the university. She grew up in New York and has lived all over the country, from Boston to Colorado to Hawaii, before landing here. "I was fortunate to grow up in a public high school in New York that had an incredible choral program, so I think my love of choral music evolved from that experience."

She was a piano major as an undergraduate, but choral music was always her main love, so she went on to get her master’s and doctoral degrees in choral conducting. Before coming to Humboldt, she directed collegiate, community, and semi-professional choirs, taught middle school and high school, and served as the music director for numerous musical theater productions.

"I love the collaborative element of music making, no matter what the age group, the musical context, or the style. Developing a community through creating music and art has always been something that drives me. The arts help people feel alive and connected to one another. NCCA is a natural evolution of these experiences."

Before selecting the program, Samet always considers the singers she is working with, including their skill level and ability, what she thinks they will enjoy working on, and what will stretch them but keep them engaged. Of course, she also considers what kind of repertoire she thinks the audience will be drawn to. For this particular concert she also considered the rehearsal and performance space.

"We are so fortunate to have our rehearsals and concerts at Christ Episcopal Church, which not only has great acoustics for choral music, but it also has a wonderful pipe organ. Two of the pieces we will perform highlight the organ, including Gabriel Fauré’s ‘Cantique de Jean Racine,’ a lyrical and expressive classic of French choral repertoire, and the first movement of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Chichester Psalms.’ ‘Chichester Psalms’ is Bernstein’s most famous choral work, sung entirely in Hebrew, and I am particularly excited to work on this since I have been invited to conduct the entire work at Carnegie Hall in New York City with a festival chorus and orchestra in June, 2025. Many of the singers involved in NCCA plan to come to New York to participate in this festival chorus next year, so it will be a wonderful way for us to get our feet wet with an excerpt from the larger piece."

Another plus for the participants and audience is that the long-time music coordinator and organist at Christ Episcopal Church, Merry Phillips, will join the group as organist and pianist. The Kegg Pipe Organ, built in Ohio and installed in Eureka in 2008, is considered one of the finest instruments of its type between San Francisco and Portland.

The title "Something Sacred, Something Wild" was derived directly from the nature of the repertoire. While making her selections, Samet was drawn to sacred choral works like the Fauré and the Bernstein, as well as Thompson’s gorgeous a cappella work, “Alleluia,” a composition that develops dramatically utilizing only that single word for the text. Lesser known but equally worthy classical repertoire complement these works, such as “Ego flos campi,” a double choir work by the Italian Renaissance composer Raffaella Aleotti, and “Dravidian Dithyramb,” described by its composer, Victor Paranjoti, as a “wild hymn,” incorporating elements of Indian classical music from the south (ragas) and Hindustani classical music from the north (tarana).

"One of the pieces I am most excited about performing is called ‘Immortal Bach’ by the twentieth century Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt. I tend to have a stack of music on top of my piano that I love and am dying to perform but am waiting for the right time or the right venue, and this is one of those pieces, so I can’t wait to work on this one."

In “Immortal Bach” Nystedt takes a simple Bach chorale and creates a sort of arrangement of it, dividing the choir into five separate choirs who sing the chorale but at different times and with specific instructions on how long the notes are held and when they should sing them. "The five choirs will surround the audience in a circle and the effect is an ethereal sound that is quite moving. I would venture to think that most of the audience won’t have heard a piece quite like this, and I believe the acoustic of the church is going to make it a very special experience," adds Samet.

The term “sacred” in the title is purposely intended to be broad, so the second half of the program includes pieces that honor nature, including William Barnum’s musical meditation “Dawn,” and Moira Smiley’s “Stand in That River,” which is set in a folk style. The “wild” elements of the program are highlighted with Eric Whitacre’s “Animal Crackers,” a whimsical set of three short pieces based on the poetry of Ogden Nash; Sarah Quartel’s driving and evocative “Voice on the Wind;” and Emmy-award winning composer Jake Runestad’s “Wild Forces,” an exciting piece excerpted from his large work “The Hope of Loving.”

Samet's enthusiasm for this workshop and the performances is palpable. "It’s an amazing concert program, from deeply intimate and meditative to powerful and energizing. I truly believe this is going to be a special concert, with unique and beautiful music sung by great singers. We really look forward to sharing this experience with our friends and with anyone who enjoys great music."