The Rainbow Chorus,
(self-published, 2000)

The Rainbow Chorus' motto is "Uniting Gay and Straight Voices in Peace and Harmony," an admirable goal and one they've achieved on Beginnings. It's a very pleasant album, although slightly preachy, and I hope and expect the participants had a good time making it; their dedication and commitment shine through.

The problem I'm having writing this review, though, is that admirable messages aren't enough to carry an album. And while musically it's quite pleasant, it's all very traditional choral arrangements; there's not the variety in sound that would make the uniformity of message more interesting. The chorus is skilled, as are the musicians who worked on the album; I think the flaws lie in the arrangements and the choices and ordering of the songs included on the CD. Some of the songs have a dramatic structure, but the album as a whole does not -- and this weakens the drama of the songs, since it makes their conflict and resolution repetitive.

The first seven of the thirteen tracks are a suite of songs called "Beginnings" by Steven B. Eulberg, commissioned for the Rainbow Chorus. I'm not sure why it's called a suite; the individual songs seem to have little to do with each other musically or in the lyrics, apart from the shared message. The accompaniments here are more varied and interesting than the rest of the album, as are some of the choral arrangements. A standout is "I Celebrate Life," positive without being message-laden and arranged in a folky style with elements of rounds and call-and-response songs. The dijeridu gives a pleasant musical and rhythmic base to this track.

"Rock on Rock" is another strong song in the suite, with its message of rebuilding and renewal, and an excellent use of the full range of voices in the chorus for dramatic and musical effect. I did find the inclusion of "...the munch of the termite" to be a bit incongruous in its list of disasters; although termites do impressive damage to human works, the other destroyers listed are loud, and the verse sung in a grandly impressive style -- so when they got to the termites, I almost giggled. This is a minor quibble, though, about a very strong song.

The full suite consists of: "Snowbow at Sky," a lovely hammered-dulcimer solo; "Beginnings," something of an anthem for the chorus and its goals; "I Celebrate Life"; "How Do We Get There From Here," which includes a bit of the Rainbow Chorus' history in spoken interludes between the verses; "Hear the Voice," which begins in an atonal modern style but ends inspirationally and musically in a way that takes full advantage of the strengths of choral singing; "Rock on Rock"; and "Set Your Back to the Setting Sun," with bluegrass elements that are better suited for solo or small-group singing than large choruses.

"Land of the Free" was recorded live, and this seemed to imbue it with an extra energy and vivacity. It's another anthem, and quite a nice one. "Te Quiero (I Adore You)" is a love song sung in Spanish (with an English translation in the liner), and it's an interesting blend of a personal love with a political consciousness. This makes it one of the most interesting songs on the album. I wish I understood the Spanish lyrics more completely; in a love song, a translation only takes you so far! The soloists on it sing beautifully, and the solo verses make a pleasant contrast with the choral sections. I'd love to hear this song sung entirely by a soloist; the formality inherent in choral singing is an odd contrast to the passionate lyrics.

"O Earth, O Earth, Return," a setting of a poem by Blake, has a simple and lovely arrangement with the chorus and a synthesizer, reminiscent of some of a beautiful hymn sung by a skilled church choir. It's followed by "Offertorio," a piece from "Requiem in Memory of All Those Who Have Died of AIDS" with lyrics from the traditional Latin Mass (again with English translation in the notes). It's beautifully sung, but a synthesizer or organ accompaniment would have been more effective here than the piano, given the subject and style.

"Prayer of the Children," also recorded live, is a plea for peace and social justice. The last track, "The Awakening," is another dramatic piece; this one celebrates the triumph of music. While the arrangement of the initial part is odd, especially the full choral treatment of lyrics like "No choir sang to change the world" where the music contradicts the verse, the ending is resounding and uplifting. And very final; this is not a recording where the transition between the last song and the first one is comfortable or smooth.

Assuming one shared the politics of the Rainbow Chorus, this is a pleasant album. It will be particularly appreciated by people fond of choral singing when they, or someone they love, are coming to terms with homosexuality and its acceptance; anyone in this situation will certainly welcome its message and positive outlook.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]