Yesterday afternoon I walked into a big room at a church in Encinitas and encountered a choir of about 40 teens, a rapper, a string quartet and a trio made up of some of San Diego’s finest jazz musicians.

The odd crew had assembled for a dress rehearsal for a concert on Sunday. The choir, the North Coast Singers, commissioned famed local jazz guitarist Peter Sprague to compose a piece for them and his String Consort, which combines a jazz trio and a string quartet.

It’s the kind of collaboration that I love hearing about — local groups cross-pollinating across genre lines. I’ll be on NBC San Diego at 4:30 to show you a peek of how the piece is coming together, and we’ll post the clip here as soon as we can.

The piece, “Calling Me Home: Suite,” is attention-grabbing. The teens sing complicated rhythms in rapidly changing tempos and beats. The jazz tune breaks for a rap solo. The string players fill in spaces with texture and harmony.

It’s the first time a composer has played along with the choir when it sings a commissioned piece, said Sally Husch Dean, who founded the North Coast Singers nearly 20 years ago.

And writing this piece was Sprague’s first attempt at writing for a choir, he said.

“There’s something magical when you get a bunch of voices at the same time that happens, versus one voice,” he said. “So I’m kind of learning through doing how all of that works.”

Earlier this week, Sprague posted a bit of the back story to his Facebook page:

This project started out many months back with Sally Dean and the North Coast Singers commissioning me to write a piece that incorporated their 40 person choir along with my String Consort group. I holed up for a month planning out what everyone should do at each given moment and with the score complete, we embarked on the journey of learning the notes and making sense of the madness.

Well folks, that day is here and we’re thrilled to present the piece to your waiting ears. The 30 minute composition features lots of choir ensemble harmony, two solo vocal spots, a guitar solo, a bass solo, virtuosic violin excursions, a drum solo, samba grooves, a gospel section and we’ve even incorporated a young rap fellow who has his moment in the sun. It’s a big undertaking and we’re working hard to pull it off. And one of the coolest things about it is seeing the kids as they take a ride to the unknown with a posse of jazz outlaws. Illegal harmony ahead!

The concert is Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.

I am the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with me on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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