Feast for the heart: New Big Island choir presents debut concert series
April 28, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
* Updated April 28, 10:04 AM
When Douglas Albertson moved to the Big Island from California in 2018 after more than three decades directing high school, college, community and church choral groups in Alaska and on the West Coast, the 67-year-old thought he was going to retire from the conductor’s post. You know, go fishing and sail or something that didn’t involve singing.
But stepping away from a community and profession that matured him into the man he is today and provided a social and emotional support system for so long wasn’t in the cards.
“You can take the boy out of the choir, but you can’t take the choir out of the boy,” said Albertson, who now lives in Hilo.
So Albertson founded a new community choir called the Big Island Singers with 33 members from throughout East Hawai’i. They are now ready to take audiences on a road trip of musical romance — a feast for the heart — with their debut concert series this weekend at several venues in Hilo.
Big Island Singers present “Love Songs in Spring” with three performances:
- April 28 at 7 p.m. at United Community Church
- April 29 at 3 p.m. at Hilo United Methodist Church
- April 30 at 3 p.m. at Hilo Daijingu Temple.
Featuring music from madrigals to more modern tunes, the performances will include songs such as “Ecco Mormorar L’onde” by Claudio Monteverdi, “A Summer Night, and You, and Paradise” by Benjamin Kornelis, “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” arranged by Julie Gaulke, traditional ballad folk song “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” arranged by R.E. Grove, “Te Quiero” (“I Love You”) arranged by Liliana Cangiano and more.
“It’s the spirit of spring,” Albertson said Wednesday night during the group’s final dress rehearsal, adding the world could use more love.
“It’s a sentiment we don’t have enough of … and these times when people are divided and struggling and not quite as confident in things around them, it’s nice to be in a place where you can come and just luxuriate in the sound of good music and strong sentiment.”
The choir will be accompanied on piano by renowned educator, composer and keyboardist Michael Springer. Special guest Mark Caudill from St. Joseph High School in Hilo will play violin. Jeri Gertz, who directed Hilo women’s choral group Harmony On Tap for 10 years and sings alto in the new choir, will serve as emcee for the performances. She also serves as the group’s creative director.
“If music be the food of love, we have a veritable feast for you,” Gertz said. “We’ll feed you with songs that explore the vast landscape of love; passionate, playful, reverent and yearning.”
Admission to each of the shows is free; however, donations are welcome. Any money raised will be used to pay for the new group’s expenses, including printing costs, piano tuning and other supplies.
Albertson had been in Hilo for a year when he thought it might be fun to form a community choir. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, isolating him — like the rest of the world — from the community. During that time, the itch to start something new grew and he started shopping the idea around to people such as Gertz and other friends.
To test the waters, he put together a short Christmas performance last year that featured a small group of people who are now members of Big Island Singers. That led to the creation of the new choir, which began weekly practices Feb. 1 at the Methodist church on Waiānuenue Avenue.
Now, just 90 days later, the semi-professional and professional level singers from throughout East Hawai‘i who range in age from high school to kūpuna will show off their hard work. It included a lot of homework on each member’s part to be able to perform the challenging setlist put together by Albertson, featuring breathtaking four-part — and often eight-part — harmonies for the new group’s debut. They want to show off their versatility.
According to their director, they’ve definitely stepped up to the plate. Albertson described the choir’s sound as rich, full, sonorous, balanced and blended after Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal. Tenor Tom McAlexander said it’s easy not to get nervous when the group sounds so good.
While he won’t be able to sing with the choir for the full performance slate because of pneumonitis, which causes inflammation of lung tissue, the 83-year-old former choral director who lives in Volcano, said it’s been a thrill to be able to sing again under such a capable conductor. McAlexander also will be directing the choir’s men on some pieces this weekend.
“I am excited for Doug and for all of the singers,” he said. “They’ve just come so far in the short time that we’ve been rehearsing, it’s amazing.”
Joanne Pocsidio, a former member of Harmony On Tap and friend of Albertson, jumped at the opportunity to be part of the new choir. The 57-year-old soprano who lives in Hilo is excited for this weekend’s debut and said it’s fun singing with old friends and new.
“It’s nice to be in the beginning of something new, starting and see where that will go,” Pocsidio said. “And it’s nice to be able to fulfill my friend’s passion.”
Albertson thinks he’s accomplished his goal, which was to find a group of people who wanted to be challenged musically and connect with them and audiences. One of his themes for the choir’s debut is building connections. Another has been building something from the ground up, new territory for Albertson. To get to the point where he and the choir can now share their music and put their talent on display for the community is special.
“We took it from nothing to something and that’s a pretty cool feeling,” he said. “So we made something happen.”
Albertson is ready for the Big Island to hear the choir, and said those who attend the performances are in for a treat: “I hope it’s heartwarming and touching and a bit astounding.”