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Review: Celebrating The American Spirit

You’ve got your favorite holiday CDs that you play when entertaining friends in December, and possibly some smooth jazz for dinner parties.  But what do you play when having guests over to watch the presidential inauguration?  The answer comes from conductor Judith Clurman, with her newest release, Celebrating The American Spirit.
This patriotic celebration first caught my eye in a suggestion message from Amazon.  It had nothing but 5 star reviews, so I knew I had to check it out; one hour later I added my own 5 star rating!  If you read the names of the people involved, it serves as a Who’s Who of New York’s most prolific talent.  Judith Clurman conducts the CD, which features her chorus, Essential Voices USA, known for their numerous Carnegie Hall appearances, as well as Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Ron Raines, with compositions and arrangements by Tony Award-winning Larry Hochman (The Book of Mormon) and numerous other notables!
If you’re like me, you probably don’t keep current with choral music recordings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start now.  The album opens with the chorus singing “The Pledge Of Allegiance,” written by Laurie Hochman.  There’s something incredible about a large ensemble singing together that you can’t get from a solo artist.  Judith masterfully gets the chorus together on every vowel, consonant, and breath.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many voices were joined in song because they blend so beautifully.
The backbone of this recording is Sing Out, Mr. President, a song cycle of sixteen newly commissioned pieces set to quotations by American presidents from Washington to Obama.  With each piece written by a different composer, the cycle selections are at once incredibly unified and vastly individual.  Immediately following are two incredible tracks, both adapted by Billy Test: “It Gets Lonely In The White House, performed by Mr. Raines, and a solo piano rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”  Closing out the CD is Larry Hochman’s delicious arrangement of “God Bless America,” with the angelic voice of Ms. O’Hara taking the lead, backed by Essential Voices USA.
Regardless of how you voted in this past election, whether your candidate won or loss, this recording will speak to you about what it means to be an American.  While I, myself, am proud to be an American, I’ve never considered myself to be extremely patriotic; it’s something I too often take for granted.  Yet I found myself listening with a smile on my face, welling up with a sense of pride as I was Celebrating The American Spirit.