Truckee history told in song

Photo by Kristie Pellegrino

We all know Truckee has a vibrant and unusual history. Since the Gold Rush days, there has never been a lack of lively characters and noteworthy stories. Now one local chorus has teamed up with a cast of local artisans, composers and performers to bring the past to life through song.

“The Truckee Historical Revue”
May 4-5 | Community Arts Center | Truckee

“Usually we have an eclectic program with a lot of different genres, a potpourri so to speak,” says Susan Horst, the musical conductor and artistic director of the Truckee Tahoe Community Chorus. “Our founding conductor Chris Nelson [who passed on in 2012] wanted to develop a musical to portray Truckee’s colorful history. There was a pool of money dedicated to his vision that sat around until the board decided it was time.”

“Chris [Nelson] wanted to bring true history to life and we wanted the community to remember and that’s why we have worked so hard to bring it to life.”
–Patty Gegenheimer

Truckee Tahoe Community Chorus was founded in 2002 so local singers could come together to learn different types of music and perform in the area. People joined from Truckee and as far away as Sierraville, Donner Summit and the North Shore. The choir now includes 60 members.

On May 4 and 5, the chorus is joining forces with the dancers of InnerRhythms Dance, singer/songwriter Richard Blair and composer David Wendell Nelson to present an original musical production titled, “The Truckee Historical Revue.”

The presentation encompasses the history of Truckee and surrounding areas beginning with the pre-pioneer days when Native Americans lived in equilibrium with nature. Washoe alto Susan Mushrush begins the concert in a Dorian mode that rises and falls in her native language.

“It breathes in this primitive way,” says Nelson. “There is a chant-like quality that rises and falls hypnotically along with the choir.”

A longtime Los Angeles music theory and composition professor who retired to Tahoe, Nelson has contributed original compositions to several local productions including Lake Tahoe Music Festival.

“We had to start from the large picture and add things that are period specific,” he says “We spent a lot of time with Truckee-Donner Historical Society to make sure everything was historically accurate. There are a lot of stories floating around and we want to make sure we have it right. Everything has been authenticated.”

Nelson started with the lyrics before writing the music, which ranges through classical, folk, Americana, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

“I wanted to make it a musical evolution, as well,” he says. “I was always taught you can’t just be one special kind of composer. We are trained to write in every kind of genre that exists. For me, to write in different styles is a true joy.”

The completed work includes stories and songs about the Donner Party, the Transcontinental Railroad, Boca Beer, Chinese and Irish immigrants, vigilante justice, modern-day tourism and more. More than 120 talented local and guest singers, dancers and musicians dressed in period attire will perform as part of the production, including members of the barbershop quarter OK Chorale and the Diablo Valley College Philharmonic Orchestra, not to mention noted local historian, actor and writer McAvoy Lane as Mark Twain. Truckee Tahoe Youth Chorus will perform a pre-show of Americana folk tunes.

“The choir is a wonderful program for community members to continue with their collegiate education tuition free,” says Tahoe Truckee chorus president Patty Gegenheimer. “Chris wanted to bring true history to life, and we wanted the community to remember and that’s why we have worked so hard to bring it to life.”

The project has been taking shape for nearly two years and the cast has been actively rehearsing since January at the Community Arts Center.

“The whole project has taken on a life of its own,” says Horst. “If it’s a smash success, we hope it will be done again. After all, we’re the best community chorus over 6,000 feet.” | tdrpd.org