The musical distance between Bach's B-minor Mass and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" can be measured in light years, but Maurice Allard, leader of the Orange County Master Chorale, traverses the distance with apparent ease.
"I believe I'm a communicator," Allard declared. "Whether it's the emotional outpouring of the B-minor's 'Crucifixus' or the uninhibited joy of 'Younger Than Springtime,' you are still communicating something."
With Allard at the helm, the chorale will present its "30th Pops Celebration" this weekend with two programs saluting Rodgers and Hammerstein. Featuring Florence Henderson as soloist, the concerts are set for 8 tonight and at 3 Sunday afternoon at Orange Coast College.
For the event, Allard has asked his singers to dispense with the score.
"The score in a singer's hands can serve as a barrier to communicating," Allard explained. "In the pops field, you have to maximize that (communication) to get more audience involvement. So I ask the chorus to memorize the parts.
"Since our (regular) season really closed with the April concert, the singers have the option of skipping the pops program. Memorizing an evening's worth of music is a lot to ask. I thought we'd have only half the singers for these concerts, but we lost only 15." (The chorale has 90 singers).
Along with their scores, Allard asks his singers to discard their inhibitions at these pops events. "We work on facial expression, body language--whatever it takes to make the programs more theatrical."
Such elaborate measures are taken because, as Allard explains, chorales have a bad image.
"I'm afraid there's still a link in some minds between a chorus and church music, and that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It's just not that interesting to most people.
"So on pops concerts like these, I'll concentrate on programming and getting into the physical element, like moving the singers around. I'm not locked into the traditional way of doing anything.
"For instance, when we do our gospel concert at the Orange County Performing Arts Center next season, I'll pull out some chorus members to form a mixed octet for a gospel medley."
Turning the spotlight on singers from the chorale is the exception rather than the rule, Allard was quick to add. "We spend more on outside soloists than any other local chorus. It's part of our commitment to the audience."
The major focus of this commitment, Allard said, remains "serious" choral music. Next season at the Center the chorale will perform Bach's "St. Matthew" Passion and a major new work by John Rutter, commissioned for the chorale and included in the Christmas concert. In addition, the ensemble will make an appearance with the Joffrey Ballet when the company dances "Passage" (to a choral work by Thomas Tallis) at the Center in October.
And, of course, there's the gospel concert in June, 1987. "There is such a demand for the lighter stuff, I can't ignore it," Allard said. "Right now, we have a pops series of three events for the following season. These programs always sell out."