"We sing in T-shirts and jeans," says Julianne Mandell, production coordinator for the Angel City Chorale, which will perform Sunday at the Peter Strauss Ranch, a facility operated by the National Park Service. "And the kids [in the audience] get up and dance," she says, alluding to the chorale's most recent outdoor performance this summer at the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest.
These goings-on may not seem to fit the usual idea of a choral-music ensemble. Indeed, Mandell says, "We're not your ordinary choir." Then she spins off a list of musical numbers from their repertoire, ranging from the classical to "If I Had A Hammer," the African "O Sifuni Moungu " and "Operator," a choral favorite popularized by the group "Manhattan Transfer."
Mandell expects 50 of the group's 90 choristers, plus soloists and an instrumental trio, to participate Sunday. "Our emphasis is on crowd-pleasing," Mandell says in describing the group's 60-minute presentations. "The crowd always gets into it, clapping and sometimes singing along."
In locales from the Theatricum Botanicum to the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade to televised concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, this group has been performing all over Southern California since 1993. It was that year that Sue Fink, a veteran of the famed Roger Wagner Chorale, founded the group with 18 others and then stayed on to serve as conductor.
Apropos singing along, the Angel City Chorale's appearance Sunday will have as a warmup act a musical duo that specializes in getting the audience into the action.
Ken and Phee Graydon, a husband and wife team of balladeers from Fallbrook, specialize in Western-themed ballads, which they collect, compose and teach to school groups and service groups in Southern California.
They have devised a special song to get folks in a sing-along mood. "Time To Start Singing Again," Ken says, evokes the flower-power feeling of the '60s "and has a repeat-chorus which people learn and sing with us right away."
Kids, especially, are keen to join in, Ken says, noting "I'm always surprised that they all seem to know to do it. For instance, they all know 'I've Been Workin' On The Railroad'--even the fifth-graders."
Ken is a Western history buff who plays a 12-string guitar; Phee joins in on banjo or hammered dulcimer. Self-described "weekend musicians" who have been performing publicly for 20 years and moved to Fallbrook a few years ago after 40 years in Northridge, they include lots of songs of Ken's devising in their repertoire.
"The schools study California history in fourth grade, so when we give programs there, we include songs about Owens Lake, Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos ranchos and even low riders," Ken says.
These are songs he's written using historical facts about the steamboat that used to ply Owens Lake, the beginnings of serious horse racing locally on a stretch between Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos and the '60s and '70s craze for cruising on Van Nuys Boulevard. He even has a song about a misbegotten railroad that ran between Death Valley and the Pacific, carrying tourists.
With luck, families visiting the Strauss Ranch on Sunday will be spared the desert heat we've been having lately and may be able to enjoy a whiff of sea breeze while lolling, listening--and maybe singing along--in the park above the Valley.
Sunday Concert at 2 p.m. at the Peter Strauss Ranch, Mulholland Highway and Troutdale Road in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Free. (818) 597-9192, Ext. 201.