Oakland Jazz Choir to perform at St. Peter’s Chapel – The Vacaville Reporter

Oakland Jazz Choir to perform at St. Peter’s Chapel – The Vacaville Reporter

While the mention of jazz often conjures up big, festive sounds and plenty of improvisation, the Oakland Jazz Choir will spend months at a time trying to achieve the opposite. The highly organized harmonies of a jazz choir are not meant to show off individual riffs, but instead create a seamless blend of sound.

As the Oakland Jazz Choir prepares to fill St. Peter’s Chapel on Mare Island with the rich vocal harmonies of Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Queen, it will be among only a few in the country to do so. Community jazz choirs are rare, and before this year, it was unclear if Oakland’s would even make it.

“Rebuilding has been a big thing,” said Artistic Director Ben Flint, reflecting on the dip in membership during the pandemic. “That actually hasn’t been a bad thing. It’s brought a lot of new energy to the choir.”

One interesting trend Flint noticed since the pandemic is the increased number of young members auditioning.

“It’s been a long haul trying to keep the choir together,” said Managing Director of the choir Heather Fong. “There’s a lot more excitement and optimism and more opportunities as a nondddddddddddprofit. We are going into 2024 with high hopes,” said Fong.

The growth that has come from rebuilding has also helped the choir to rebalance, both metaphorically and literally. As the choir climbed back to its original size of 16 members, Flint said it helped the four sections match each other in volume.

The close harmonies unique to jazz choir tend to be more dense than other choirs by one or two notes. “But that’s enough,” laughed Flint. While most choirs that you hear typically sing three to four part harmonies, jazz choirs are singing 4 to 6 part harmonies, explained Flint.

Usually, chords placed very close together like that would create an unpleasant dissonant effect, but that isn’t the case with jazz choir harmonies. The choir vocalists are meant to keep a clear note, without using vibrato, which helps create a clean harmony almost resembling an instrumental sound.

Discipline of that sort makes it easy to see how the choir could attract some independent individuals. “It’s definitely an opinionated Bay Area adult group,” laughed Fong.

Determination is a strong theme throughout the choir, beginning with Flint himself who admits he had interviewed for the position three separate times before being offered the role. “I even had a piece of paper the first time I interviewed, like ’10 things I would do if I were the director’,” said Flint, who said he has since accomplished them all.

But even with that level of perseverance, Flint will be the first to say he doesn’t push a “my way or the highway” agenda. “I’m open to suggestions on most things, but it’s not a democracy,” said Flint.

One recent example of this occurred when a member suggested they bring back a song from before the pandemic. It is a hugely difficult piece, said Flint, and they had only performed it once before leaving it alone for four years. Now it’s back on the rehearsal agenda as the choir keeps pushing for excellence.

The opportunity to rebuild has been invigorating to Fong and Flint as they consider what it means for their future.

“We are working toward increased financial stability, longevity, succession and visibility,” said Fong.

However, they are also keenly aware of their nonprofit mission which is to bring music to under-resourced communities and populations. Like so many of their other aspects of operation, Fong explained how that mission was almost entirely impossible during the pandemic.

As they move further along in the year, one of their goals is to get more performance opportunities in senior residences and emergency shelter and housing communities.


  • WHAT: Music at the Chapel Presents The Oakland Jazz Choir
  • WHEN: April 14, 3 p.m.
  • WHERE: St. Peter’s Chapel,1181 Walnut Ave., Vallejo.
  • TICKETS: Premier Reserve Seating: $40 (guaranteed seating in the first 3 rows), Standard Adult Seating: $25, Children under 13:  $15. Tickets available at: www.mihpf.org/store/oakland-jazz-choir

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