Angel City Chorale: The little chorale that could
Very few things have been constant within the Angel City Chorale during its 21 years of existence. Singers have come and gone, rehearsal and performance spaces have changed with regularity, and the repertoire is ever-changing and expanding, but behind it all, Sue Fink, Angel City’s founder and director, has been a permanent fixture. She sat down recently at a Westside coffee shop to discuss the chorale’s latest venture, a summer concert at the Wilshire United Methodist Church featuring the music of Grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin that will take place June 7 and 8.
Fink was born and raised in Beverly Hills and grew up attending Temple Israel of Hollywood and Camp Alonim. She knew she wanted to be involved with music from an early age, and when the time came to head off to college, she stayed close to home, studying under famed choral musician Roger Wagner at UCLA. After graduating, Fink made a career as a singer/songwriter and vocal teacher.
In 1993, during one of her vocal teaching gigs, at the venerable Santa Monica music store McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Fink came up with the idea to do something new. “I thought, ‘Gee, maybe it would be kind of fun to start a little choral group,’ ” she said. She got together 18 of her vocal students and started rehearsing for a small concert at McCabe’s, which also serves as a performance venue.
“We pulled off three little songs; they were so simple,” she said, laughing. And though her initial effort may have fallen a little short of Fink’s high standards, “Within a year and a half, we were up to 64 people,” she said. “I was building a little community; it was more than a choir, and it felt really different.”
The group became so large that it outgrew McCabe’s, so they decamped to a nearby Unitarian church. The choir’s sound and talent began to grow, as well, and Fink decided to stage another, bigger concert. She figured a couple hundred people would show up, so when 700 people came, they had to scramble. “Most of our audience had never heard a choral concert in their life,” Fink said.
With their newfound following, the choir began performing more around town. Fink organized a “tour of hope,” which included performances at missions, soup kitchens and shelters around the city. A CD, the chorale’s first, soon followed.
Angel City Chorale will perform June 7 and 8 in Los Angeles. Photos by William R. Greenblatt
When it was announced that the Democratic National Convention would be coming to town in the summer of 2000, Fink decided to submit the group’s CD, hoping that they might be chosen to sing along with other groups at the convention. To Fink’s shock, the committee asked Angel City to be the main choir for the convention. “That just really put us on the map,” she said, “and I got to conduct Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross.”
After the success of the convention, the chorale began touring more frequently. They group has been to Ireland and South Africa, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and Disney Hall in Los Angeles, among other venues. They also recorded more albums, including a Chanukah CD.
“About 10 years ago, we started auditioning, and then it got a lot harder to get in,” said Fink. But no one’s ever been booted out, and some of the original members still sing. “We have a large group of TV writers. … We have a large contingent of people who work for Rand,” Fink said of the Santa Monica-based think tank. When one person from an office joins, they often drag along friends, she said.
“I kind of think of us as a gateway choir, for people who don’t realize the power of choral music,” Fink said. “People feel like they’ve found someplace they belong, without the ugly cult side.”
Angel City is a nonprofit organization and now performs two major shows a year outside of its private and touring gigs — a holiday concert and a summer concert, the latter of which takes place June 7 and 8 and will feature the music of Tin, whom Fink describes as “one of the great geniuses of anyone in the world who’s ever lived.”
Fink first came across Tin when the chorale performed a piece he’d written for the video game Civilization IV, called “Baba Yetu,” the first video game theme ever to be nominated for a Grammy, which it won. Tin was pleased with the chorale’s performance of the piece, and asked them to sing on his next album, “The Drop That Contained the Sea,” released this month.
Tin’s music — which falls under the category of world music, as it features compositions influenced by musical traditions from locales as diverse as Bulgaria, India and South Africa — will make up the entire second half of the summer concert. The first half will see the chorale perform the eclectic repertoire for which it’s become known. “We’re going to start with a Brahms piece, from the Brahms ‘Requiem,’ and then we’re going to turn around and do ‘Skyfall,’ ” Fink said. “I was originally going to call the concert ‘Earth, Tin and Fire,’ but he didn’t like that,” said Fink, who chose the title “Elements” instead.
Her enthusiasm for sharing is infectious: “Music is kind of a leveler because you can be the poorest person in the world or the richest person in the world … and you have that commonality of music, and all of a sudden, you find something that ties you together,” she said.
“I want to be a force for good. I just want to leave the world a little bit better for me being here. Whatever brings out joy or the best in people, I’m all about that.”