Columbia Pro Cantare, guests mine the 'Great American Songbook'

It is safe to assume that most of the audience will be able to name that tune during the Columbia Pro Cantare’s “Salute to George Gershwin and Jerome Kern” on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre. Indeed, many audience members also will know all of the lyrics of songs by these famous composers from the early 20th century.

“There is a lot that people will recognize in these tunes,” Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson said. “Gershwin and Kern represent a time where everybody knew the tunes, whether through piano rolls, Broadway melodies or the radio. These songs reflected who they were. There was a unifying presentation that defined who Americans were.”


Placing both composers on the same program prompted Dawson to contemplate how Kern really came out of the world of light classical music and the operetta.

“He was a romantic who wears the sentiment on his sleeve,” Dawson said, adding that Gershwin’s sound belongs more to the “upbeat jazz world.”


Dawson had an abundance of material from which to choose in putting together this program, which will be performed by the Columbia Pro Cantare chorus, a couple of guest soloists and a string quartet culled from the Howard County Concert Orchestra. The concert itself will be conducted by Pro Cantare assistant conductor Laura Lee Fischer.

These composers were such prolific contributors to what is known as the Great American Songbook that the upcoming concert is positively bursting with their music.

Kern songs on the program include “Long Ago and Far Away,” “All the Things You Are,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Who Could Ask for Anything More,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.”

In fact, there are so many Kern selections on the program that some of them will be performed in a medley.

As for Gershwin, the guest soloists are sure to provide a couple of the evening’s highlights.

A solo piano version of “Rhapsody in Blue” will be performed by Eric Zuber.

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And a beautiful song, “Summertime,” will be performed by vocalist Kayla Currie.

“She sang this song at the Apollo [Theater in New York City] last year,” Dawson said. “She’s only 24 and has such a great voice. Someday we will all be saying that we knew her when.”


Other Gershwin selections include “Sing of Spring” and additional selections from “Porgy and Bess.”

There is a third composer on the program: Columbia Pro Cantare also will be singing Leonard Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow.”

“It was an instinctive decision to add the Bernstein, and it helps hold everything together,” Dawson explained. “It somehow felt perfect, because [musically] it is a trail that leads closer to our own time. In a sense, it sums up everything.”

Moreover, the Bernstein selection prompted Dawson to recall the vision that Columbia founder James Rouse had for the city. Dawson said that “Rouse wanted a place where people can grow.”

Columbia Pro Cantare performs its “Salute to George Gershwin and Jerome Kern” on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance, and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under. Call 410-799-9321 or go to