Caliente Community Chorus plans spring concert focused on theme of 'Home'

New music by Albuquerque composer to be debuted during March 28 show

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The concert will be performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28 at the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington.
  • Admission is $15 at the door.
  • Next month, nearly two dozen Caliente members will fly to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall.

FARMINGTON — As a founder of the Caliente Community Chorus and a longtime vocal music teacher in San Juan County, Virginia Nickels Hircock has put together dozens of programs for choral groups over the last 30 years.

But the response she has gotten from her singers about the music she has chosen for Caliente’s spring concert “Home” on March 28 is like nothing she has experienced before, she said.

“I have received so many comments from my members,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘This is my favorite concert program.’ They love the music.”

Nickels Hircock has compiled an ambitious, challenging and widely varied program for the concert, which will focus, as its name implies, on various concepts of home. The show will be highlighted by the world-premiere performance of three movements from Albuquerque composer, conductor and singer Bradley Ellingboe’s new secular oratorio, “A Place Called Home.”

Ellingboe’s new work is “all about what we have done and are doing to our planet,” Nickels Hircock said. “So I thought, ‘Well, home is a good theme. I began looking for music about home. I thought there are so many aspects of home, and it has turned into a really nice piece of programming.”

Accompanied by pianist Robyn Woodard, members of the Caliente Community Chorus' soprano section rehearse for their "Home" concert on March 21.

“A Place Called Home” is set in a fictitious, close-knit, prosperous community where most residents are employed at a local factory. The first movement Caliente will perform, “Poplar Street,” focuses on the fond memories of the folks who grew up there, as they recall the bountiful trick-or-treat hauls, overflowing gardens and freshly mowed lawns of their youth. Nickels Hircock said she encouraged her singers to reflect on warm memories from their own childhood as they rehearsed the piece.

But the mood changes considerably in the second piece Caliente will perform, which is called “What Have We Done?” Nickels Hircock described the piece as more than a little frightening, as the negative impact of the factory on the environment has become evident over the years, leading those same longtime residents to acknowledge their own culpability in the situation when they sing, “Shared is the sorrow, shared is the shame” at the end of the movement.

But Ellingboe returns the mood to a more even and hopeful footing in the final movement, “A Place Called Home,” which Nickels Hircock said harkens back to the ideal setting of the first movement, though it cautions listeners that Earth is a fragile place and that it is up to everyone to help restore it.

“It’s a call to act — so go act,” Nickels Hircock said.

Director Virginia Nickels Hircock leads the Caliente Community Chorus in a rehearsal on March 21.

The three pieces represent a significant departure from the kind of material her choir typically performs, she said.

“It’s new music — it’s not what people are used to,” she said. “Initially, there was lots of grumbling (by choir members) – ‘Well, I don’t like this.’ But, now, it’s more like, ‘It’s great. It’s really grown on me.’”

Nickels Hircock and Ellingboe have been friends and colleagues for many years, paving the way for Caliente to become the first choral group to publicly perform the three movements, of which there are 10 altogether.

Ellingboe won’t be able to attend Caliente’s performance, since he’ll be rehearsing with his Coro Lux choral group in Albuquerque that night. But he said he has enormous faith in the ability of Nickels Hircock to lead Caliente through a quality performance of the three movements.

“One of the analogies I use is that if you create a brand new automobile, you’re pretty sure what it can do,” he said in regard to having new material performed for the first time.

If you have someone you trust, such as Nickels Hircock, behind the wheel of that “new car” for a test drive, Ellingboe said, you can be pleasantly surprised by how they handle it, perhaps even revealing to you something new about the material you didn’t see previously.

On the other hand, he said, in the hands of the wrong person, the worst can happen.

“Then you say, ‘Why did you drive the car into the ditch?’” he said, chuckling.

Next month, nearly two dozen Caliente members will fly to New York City to join Ellingboe’s Coro Lux and the Gresham United Methodist Choir from Gresham, Oregon, in performing “A Place Called Home” in its entirety at Carnegie Hall on April 29.

Violinist Tenille Taylor and pianist James Golden join the Caliente Community Chorus during a March 21 rehearsal.

That event will mark a homecoming of sorts for Nickels Hircock, who earned her master’s degree from Westminster College in Princeton, New Jersey, while serving as a member of that institution’s choir. Nickels Hircock said the Westminster choir was the go-to choir for the New York Philharmonic in those days, and she performed a handful of times at Carnegie Hall during that period.

She said Robyn Woodard, Caliente’s accompanist, will serve as the rehearsal accompanist for the event and for the performance ensemble on the Carnegie stage.

Nickels Hircock is very excited about that performance and plans to visit with her Caliente members who will be making the trip about what they can expect. But that doesn’t mean she’s looking past the group’s March 28 concert in Farmington, which features additional music ranging in style from folk and pop to operetta and Broadway.

But every piece on the program will, in some way, reflect or explore the concept of home — and what that word means to various people.

“It’s just a fun, meaningful mix of beautiful music and poetry,” she said. “And there’s some silliness in there, too.”

Ellingboe said he wished Caliente the best in that performance and said he was sorry he couldn’t be in attendance.

“But I look forward to being together with them in New York in a month,” he said.

The concert will be performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28 at the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington, 865 N. Dustin Ave. Admission is $15 at the door.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: