The young singers offered Renaissance madrigals and a rendition of "Vienna, City of My Dreams," as lovely a bit of Old World musical charm as you could hope to hear.
And the hilltop home in Rolling Hills presented the kind of ocean view that makes you want to hum "On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever."
"That's Laguna Beach down there," said neurosurgeon Al Kaufman, who built the house six years ago for wife, Hindy, and their children, as he pointed southward. Turning in the other direction, he continued, "That's Point Mugu, and out there is Santa Barbara Island."
Santa Catalina Island, sprawled in the sea straight ahead, looked close enough to count the canyons.
For a few hours last Sunday afternoon, an $8 ticket was all it took to enjoy this music with a view, along with the eclectic Kaufman art collection--including Hopi kachina dolls, a brass horse by Mexico's Sergio Bustamente and a bush-like cluster of candles--which made the airy house with its thrust ceilings seem like a private gallery.
And that wasn't all. If your tastes ran to the dark woods and curlicues of the Victorian, there was the Palos Verdes Estates home of George and Midge Derenia, where an enormous English walnut entrance-hall mirror was a highlight.
The Fred and Sherry Dividowitz residence, also in Palos Verdes Estates, was California Mediterranean, with a wall of glass that almost let the garden come inside. Here, the attractions were a purplish table of lacquered goatskin, pinkish hand-painted wallpaper in the master bedroom--and the private sitting room enjoyed by the Dividowitz children.
Finally, there was Marvin and Margaret Miller's English country home in Rolling Hills Estates, with its fan-brick floor and sunken library, leaded windows, cheery round dining room with a wooden ceiling rising to a point, and a bed with delicately painted bedposts in the shape of swans stretching their elegant necks.
In a community noted for showing off houses, this was one with a twist as architecture, design and music--not to mention sunny weather--were combined in the Musical Homes Tour to raise funds for the 6-year-old South Coast Choral Society.
"The idea is to expose us to people who might not come to a concert," said Ted Gardner, founder-director of the 40-member group that normally performs in South Bay churches, theaters and schools. "It gives the singers an opportunity to solo and do small-group singing."
Virginia Hicks of Rancho Palos Verdes said she thought the tour was a "great idea" as she explored the Dividowitzes' dining room, with its twin triangular glass-topped dining tables. "I've been on lots of home tours, but this is the first one with music," she said.
And it apparently worked as a fund-raiser. Although counting is still under way on the number of tickets sold, it now stands at about 130.
"Sales really picked up on the weekend," Gardner said.
Choral society singers and their piano accompanists held forth at each house during the three-hour tour, and then at 4 p.m., everyone joined in the Elizabethan-style family room at the Miller home for a concert.
At the Dividowitz home, Cole Porter and inspirational music seemed to be favorites, but bass Ted Peng, a Taiwanese-born engineer who sings as a hobby, offered a sentimental Japanese folk song about a World War II soldier who would rather be home than fighting in Indonesia.
The Derenia home has a beautiful grand piano beneath a crystal chandelier, and pianist Barbara Bauer Lyons used it to dazzle her onlookers with the musical fire of Joaquin Turina's "Circus."
Sometimes the singers found themselves performing to almost-empty rooms as visitors seemed more intent on exploring the houses than hearing music. "That gives us a chance to warm up and get the kinks out of our voices," joked bass Jim Reitzell.
One singer said that the strength of the choral group is its variety, composed as it is of professional performers, music teachers and several people who sing just for fun. "We like to call them unpaid professionals," Gardner said.
Gardner himself is a 51-year-old real estate man in Rolling Hills Estates who says that music is "something I've done all my life."
He composed a symphony at the age of 12--"It was unfinished, and for good reason"--and wrote and directed a musical while in high school. He went on to compose and conduct but says he "took a long time off from music" and got into real estate. Six years ago, people who knew of his musical background asked him to form a choral group. "Enough people were interested to make me want to do it," he said.
Although the tour had its share of light music, the choral group's normal repertoire is weightier works by the likes of Bach and Brahms. Last year, it did Mozart's "Coronation" Mass at Dapplegray School in Rolling Hills Estates and a "Messiah" sing-along at the Pacific Unitarian Church in Rancho Palos Verdes. Earlier this year, the group held a competition for local composers of choral music and performed the best entries in March.
A spring concert is scheduled for May 18 at Riviera United Methodist Church in Redondo Beach and there will be a benefit for the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates on Oct. 26.
The program that ended Sunday's tour ranged from solid English choral works to spirituals. "It's a standing-room-only crowd," Gardner joked, alluding to the absence of seats for many of the 70 people who jammed into the overly warm room.
But Thelma Jean of Torrance didn't find it uncomfortable. "I loved the music and the beautiful homes," she said, noting that her favorite was the Derenias' Victorian place. "It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon."