Kansas City certainly has no lack of outstanding choirs, but with the boldness and idealism of youth, Jackson Thomas, 23, has founded yet another choral ensemble, this one devoted entirely to contemporary classical music.
The KC VITAs Chamber Choir will present its inaugural concert Aug. 2 at St. John’s United Methodist Church.
Thomas is no mere dreamer. He has the credibility to found and lead a choir. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Thomas studied to be an opera singer before deciding to devote his career to choral music.
“The further I got into my degree, I realized that where I got the most goosebumps, where I got the most fulfillment was from choral music because it is such a communicative, communal art,” he said.
“So upon graduation, I moved to Kansas City and I realized that, wow, this is a city that sings. That’s great, but at the same time I thought, ‘Where do I fit in as a young conductor and what can I do?’
“I was talking it over with a couple of my friends, and we came up with the idea of a choral ensemble that performs exclusively new music, something Kansas City does not have.”
And thus KC VITAs Chamber Choir was born. The name of the group stands for Kansas City Vibrating Internal Thyroarytenoids, which Thomas says refers to vocal folds that regulate air flow into the lungs.
“I also like the acronym because ‘vita’ means life in several languages,” Thomas said. “I thought since it’s a new musical ensemble that the name could satisfy my vocal geekiness but also kind of go in the direction of new life and new music.”
True to its mission, KC VITAs will feature all-new music on its first concert. Thomas sought new compositions through posts on Facebook, personal connections and connections through friends. He describes the response from composers as “huge” and has chosen several selections from the large number of submissions that Thomas believes demonstrate the range and variety of contemporary choral music.
“One piece that really stands out for me is a set of four poems by Emily Dickinson (set to music) by Leslee Wood,” he said. “The fourth one is called ‘To Make a Prairie.’ Leslee has the amazing ability to personify the prairie and bring it alive with word painting. She uses the soprano, tenor and bass voices to create the different sounds that one might hear on the prairie. You can even hear a bee flying around. It’s really, really amazing.”
There’s another Dickinson setting on the program, “I Hide Myself,” with music by Anthony Maglione, director of choral activities at William Jewell College. Thomas says that Maglione creates unusual effects by calling for no vibrato during certain parts of the song and at other times for lots of vibrato. According to Thomas, this alternating vibrato “allows the voice to show a huge range but in a beautiful and intimate way.”
The 20-member choir will close the concert with “I Am Not Yours” by John Kosch. Thomas says this piece employs a technique called messa di voce.
“What that means is that you’re basically using the gamut of dynamic contrasts, so that on a certain tone, it starts softly then crescendos and comes back softly to that same note,” he said.
“It creates the illusion of a wave. This compositional device really describes the different waves of emotion that someone can feel in a relationship. It’s a very sweeping melody and will take your breath away. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Thomas speaks with passion and enthusiasm about his new choir and is confident the audience will share his enthusiasm.
“I cannot stress enough the caliber of our singers,” he said. “We have several people that have doctorates in vocal performance. As far as repertoire, we have something for everyone and all of the pieces are approachable. I really think there was a need for a choir to perform this music, and I hope that it’s something that lasts.”
7 p.m. Aug. 2. St. John’s United Methodist Church, 6900 Ward Parkway. Free. For more information about KC VITAs Chamber Choir, visit its Facebook page, http://tinyurl.com/pqhtmdt.
Miami String Quartet
As part of the Heartland Chamber Music Festival, the Miami String Quartet will give a recital Wednesday at Polsky Theatre on the Johnson County Community College campus. The intimate theater recently has received some acoustical upgrades which make the venue much more suitable for chamber music, so the Miami Quartet should sound terrific.
On the program are quartets by classical era masters Franz Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn and a contemporary work, “Whispers of Mortality,” by Bruce Adolphe. The V.I.P. Patron package includes a champagne and chocolates reception with the musicians after the concert.
7 p.m. Wednesday. Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park. $10-$50. 913-469-4445 or www.jccc.edu