At Lyall Federated Church this past Sunday evening Daniel Michael Koch’s rock operetta on the Christmas nativity story, “Let the Light Shine,” was performed by five musicians and five singers. With both words and music by Koch on piano, the narrative combined nativity stories from Mathew, Mark, and Luke. The concert began with a prolog from John’s gospel, “Down, Down. Down,” offering a first-person meditative narration on the crucifixion. Here Koch (depicted in teaser photo) sang from a mike on the piano, yet his piano drowned out his voice in what sounded like a sincere expression of testimonial grief.
Bass Mensah Robinson intoned a lively “To Live Among You,” the message of angel Gabriel to Mary. Caitlin Mandracchia performed well in the solo “Mary’s Lullaby” and “I Can’t Go Back No More,” a duet with Karen Robinson, whose vigorous voice and clear diction added complimentary shading. These two re-paired effectively in the bluesy “I Can’t Go Back No More.”
Tenor John Farias as Joseph was outstanding with dynamic voice-shading. The Dave Brubeck-style jazz interlude of Herod’s monolog sounded incongruous in style and lyrics—such a pleasantly driving jazz tune did not correspond to the story at hand. The full company singing “Off to Bethlehem” was a notable triumph, as was the concluding duet “Off to Egypt.”
Much of the light rock music performed recalled the emphatic rhythms and progressions of Elton John, sweetened with adroit violin riffs by Rob Murphy. Steve Siktberg on guitars offered vivid contrast and commentary to Koch’s rollicking stride piano. On bass Buddy Griffith provided solid rhythm as Scott Kellogg on drums supplied sensible, low-key backup. Instead of Koch singing from the piano, there should have been another singer-narrator. Koch has a good voice but the piano buried his voice. A better sound-check might have smoothed that defect.
This was an ambitious, original concert with few resources. In the early Middle Ages, the Christian faith was spread by this kind of fundamentalist, dramatic format. Koch’s lyrics do avoid corny rhymes as he presents an eye-witness format, dramatizing anguished emotions of participants amid soaring aspiration, asking the audience to identify with performers. There was one comic relief song about grumbling Magi returning to Persia, or wherever they came from. Unexpected emphasis on Zachariah offered a larger eisegetical window.
The concert concluded with a couple of traditional Christmas songs with new arrangements. With some honing, this rock operetta, “Let the Light Shine,” will definitely have a future. This is a large country and there are many opportunities for popular success. Perhaps it’s time for Dan Koch to find an agent. (Remember that it all began here in Millbrook with Dan Koch.)