Ramapo College of New Jersey, December 19, 2004:
I treat my wife, Kathy, to a special concert for her birthday. The show is at my school, Ramapo College of New Jersey. It remains a total surprise and I absolutely do not let her know who we are seeing. We arrive early for the show and she can’t help seeing the display table where Judy Collins CDs and videos are on sale. Her immediate joy is spontaneously overwhelming and totally rewarding. “Judy Collins!” she exclaims, how very special. My wife loves Judy Collins. I knew this would be a uniquely exceptional birthday surprise for her, YES!
The Berrie Center at Ramapo College is an intimate venue that seats only 350 patrons. Yet, it has all the modern conveniences as it was built in just the last few years. This particular facility was donated from the persons it was named after, Angelica and Russ Berrie. It is such an honor to have the great Judy Collins appear here for two holiday concerts. To add to the excitement, talent and sound, The Ramapo Chorale will accompany Judy under the direction of Barbara Gordon.
At 3:50 P.M. the theatre is filling up quickly, as the cold rain falls outside the warmth of this cozy theatre. Kathy is overjoyed, as I have hit a home run here. At 4:05 P.M. the theater is filled to capacity and the lights are dimming. The Ramapo Chorale enters the stage to fill three rows of seats and they are all attired in black. There is both a grand piano and an electric piano for accompaniment. The show begins with the chorale singing an a cappella religious intro of, “Alleluia, Amen.” The light, delicate and inventive piano accompaniment complements the voices, in minor mode, as the chorale sings a somber and sad lament. The Ramapo Chorale is superb. The harmonies are exacting, robust and warm. There is a gorgeous contrasting arrangement of male and female voices. “I Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” is upbeat, bright and playful, as the chorale sings as one in a unison vocal arrangement. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” follows which is very touching and displays the quality of the singers and their director. The lights go completely black.
Judy Collins graces the Berrie Center stage at 4:20 P.M. She touches everyone immediately and deeply as she leads off with her signature song, “Both Sides Now.” I notice patrons dabbing their eyes, as I too am moved to tears. This rendition is heavenly and very true to the original arrangement. Judy Collins voice is clear, articulate and resounds throughout the hall. Her vocal quality has not lost any strength or range throughout the years. Judy’s version of, “Joy To The World,” carries the holiday spirit on its majestic musical wings. The Ramapo Chorale is full and exciting. I must comment that Judy is wearing a magnificent white silk floor length dress and matching tailored jacket with a pink sparkled top. WOW! Her long silver hair is loosely tied in the back as her extensive curls fall down her back. She looks spectacular. Judy comments that this is the last night’s performance of a Christmas tour that started in November.
“Silver Bells,” sooths one’s soul and fills us with the holiday Christmas cheer the music lends itself to. Judy’s voice is polished and radiant and the superior quality continues unabated. The chorale sits out as the pianist and musical director, Russell Walden, fills in the bottom harmony. Judy enjoins the audience to all sing along, and we do. Judy sings a high harmonic answer/response with the audience that soars and flutters above us like a high-flying bird. Judy’s voice is silky smooth as she sings in the upper register of her vocal range without any strain whatsoever. Judy Collins proudly plays her signature Martin guitar. One half of tonight’s proceeds will go to UNICEF and the other half to Amnesty International.
Judy Collins continues the holiday theme with an 11th century song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” She sings totally a cappella, totally natural and without reservation. Judy’s father had a radio show and she sings, “My Funny Valentine,” from that experience. She again sings a cappella that is at ease, calm and reassured. Her parents immersed Judy in music. Judy sings a Harry Bellefonte song, “Michael Row The Boat Ashore.” She tells the audience that she started in Colorado, then traveled to Boston and moved to New York City, forty-three years ago.
Judy sings a special tribute to the firefighters and all the recovery personnel from the September 11th attack, with her moving tribute, “Kingdom Come.” This composition is a steady 4/4-time that evokes deep ardent feelings of strength and resolve during the seven months that followed the attack at ground zero. Her poignant words, “where murder doesn’t break the heart on a sunny day,” provoke deep emotion. From such an extremely overwhelming tragedy come strength and a sense of unified purpose in humanity. The chorale joins in and musically glistens as if up in the clouds, both high and strong. The piano accompaniment is gorgeous as the chorale vocals add so very much, indeed. The composition pulls and evokes deep passion, sorrow and dedication. “To Kingdom come, to hell and gone,” the chorale echoes the heavenly refrain.
Judy Collins tells us of meeting Leonard Cohen in 1966. Her album of fourteen of his compositions is titled, “Judy Collins sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy.” Judy has moved from her Martin guitar to the electric piano to perform, “Suzanne,” from the Leonard Cohen collection. Judy sings with a soothing vibrato that is confident and assured. The audience is totally stilled. The vocal presentation is complemented by her electric piano and the grand piano of her musical director. Her vocal range in the high register is magnificent. The vocal quality is smooth, graceful, glorious, steady and strong. Her long sustain vocal notes are elegantly and creatively complemented by glissando piano accompaniment.
Judy Collins now moves over to the grand piano. The Ramapo Chorale fully augments her glorious vocal delivery on, “Come Rejoice.” Judy’s voice is like an angel. Judy sings, “My Father,” next and her voice is gentle but strong, clear and exquisite.
Judy delves into the far reaches of everyone’s Christmas memory with an endearing, shortened version of, “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” She sings and talks intermittently, this glorious verse of prose. Judy remembers her mother’s “homemade divinity and chocolate fudge.” She describes her Lutheran upbringing as her, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” rendition brings back her childhood memories in a deeply thoughtful and touching moment.
“Let It Snow” is uplifting and joyful. The song is truly sincere, embracing, warm and genuine. The chorale is heavenly behind Judy’s warmth, caring, generosity and obvious appreciation. “Hark The Herald,” resounds throughout the theatre. Judy’s voice is strong, magnificent and resounds dignity and conviction. The Ramapo Chorale voices fill the hall with a celestial quality of poise and strength.
Judy Collins finishes with, “Amazing Grace.” She starts a cappella with smooth vocal sustain and graceful vocal trills. She encourages full audience participation as the chorale fills out the vocal presentation and our combined voices reach up into the heavens in an overwhelmingly integrated Christmas spirit!
Judy Collins puts on a fantastic show tonight. Her vocal presentation is amazing. Her vocal quality is exactly the same as when she began her illustrious career. I have never heard any singer whose voice is as perfectly preserved as I witnessed here tonight. The Ramapo Chorale is tremendous. The addition of these talented singing voices adds an amazing quality to the vocal presentation. The entire audience is joyfully lifted and it can clearly be seen in the emotion of everyone’s faces. Thank you Judy Collins for filling our hearts with Christmas joy and displaying your lifelong talents in these Ramapo halls.
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