In all its years of existence the Asheville Choral Society's many concerts, whether of classical or popular music, have never ceased to be less than satisfying. In the recent years, under the often-flamboyant direction of Lenora Thom, it has performed all kinds of music which has never failed to please. In this program the chorus, accompanied by a small but superb group of instrumentalists, joined a large audience in Diana Wortham Theatre in saying an exciting musical good-bye to its conductor with a concert made up of music from classics by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Jerome Kern, and George and Ira Gershwin to uptown tunes by the likes of Billy Joel and rock-and-roll numbers by such moderns as Bateman Dobbins and Lieber Stoller, whose music is better known than its creators. Although both the performers and listeners thoroughly enjoyed the music, Lenora Thom, at her best as a conductor, seemed to gain more pleasure from the program than anyone in the hall.
Ms. Thom has been a major musical figure in the Asheville community for over twenty years. During that time she has worked with a number of musical organizations. She has been the assistant conductor of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, the musical director of the Flat Rock Playhouse and the Asheville Community Theatre, and a busy vocal coach and piano teacher, but the work which has resulted in her greatest reputation in recent years is her conducting of the Asheville Choral Society, of which she was appointed Musical Director in 2000.
Certainly Saturday's concert exemplified her great musical skills and her pleasure in conducting. I have always been particularly aware of her ability to communicate her wishes to performers with her face, her expressive hands, and her flamboyant, dance-like movements which command the attention of any musicians under her direction. It was these characteristics which enabled Ms.Thom to dominate all the performers on stage, drawing their best musical efforts and making her final concert with the Asheville Choral Society truly unforgettable.
As far as I can tell, the 102-voice Asheville Choral Society is singing better now than it ever has. Although I have been away from Asheville for a few years and thus have not heard the chorus perform the more classical repertoire which audiences use to measure the worth of such an organization, I heard the richness and unity of vocal production in all parts, the vitality and energy which all singers brought to every number in the performance, the excitement everyone shared, the excellent diction, and the connection which existed between chorus and conductor. No matter the style of music a chorus performs, these musical markers I have noted must be present in any good choral program, either classical or popular music, as they clearly were in this delightful ACS offering. The upbeat rock tunes such as “Runaround Sue” and “Love Potion Number Nine,” as well as the hot numbers of the past, such as “The Joint is Jumpin',” “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” and “Sing, Sing, Sing,” were full of snap and excitement; the lush, romantic melodies of “Unforgettable,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” reached everyone in the audience with their sweet recollections of love past and the lasting joy of love still living. Especially in these numbers, the voices expressed the harmonies which many of us will always treasure.
Many of these pieces allowed soloists from the chorus to step forward and reveal skills we didn't know they had. Some of the best solo work included that of Jesse Lee in “New York State of Mind,” Sam Cope and David and Sharon Brookshire in “It Had To Be You,” and sizzling scat soloists Mike Ellis, Nana Hosmer, Manny Medeiros and Allijah Motika in “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
The sophisticated stylings of a select group of instrumentalists (Amy Cherry and Hollie Lifshey, trumpets, Charles Holland, bass and trombone, Bruce Lang, guitar and bass, Jim Anthony, sax, Paul Babeley, drums, and Vance Reese, piano and synthesizer) added color and support to all the vocal numbers. Each of these players revealed considerable skills and worked effortlessly with their conductor all evening.
In addition, the superb dancing of some very talented chorus members contributed to the spirited numbers which closed both sections of the concert. Betsie Stockslager provided the choreography which was a challenge and a pleasure to all the dancers. Finally, as Nat King Cole's famous song says with such eloquence, this concert was truly “Unforgettable.” The Asheville Choral Society and the instrumentalists did their part is making all the music unforgettable. But most unforgettable was Lenora Thom, to whom all this great music was dedicated. She deserved the recognition, and the Asheville music community will not soon forget her.