Artistic Director Sean Baugh

When Sean Baugh took over as interim artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale a year ago, his first concert, held at a 350-seat theater at the Latino Cultural Center, didn’t sell out. The chorale was floundering.

Baugh’s direction was magical and audiences quickly took notice. He was rapidly appointed permanent director and I hope permanent means just that. Each concert last season built on the previous one and by this year’s season opener, Baugh was in full command of the stage.

This year’s first concert, Heartland, sold out City Performance Hall this past weekend. Twice as many tickets sold as a year ago. Not a bad start. By the end of the season, the chorale will have to add performances to those already scheduled.

The Lone Star Wind Orchestra accompanied the chorale on stage for Hearthland. Soloist Coretta Smith, who has performed with the Dallas Opera and other opera companies around the country, and the women of Partners in Harmony were on stage with the chorale for the second half.

Smith’s “Porgy and Bess Suite” backed by the chorus of men’s and women’s voices and wind orchestra was Gershwin performed at its best.

There was so much to love about Heartland, a compilation of jazz, gospel and pop drawn from America’s heartland.

Bob McCrainie fell to pieces as Patsy Cline singing “I Fall to Pieces,” finally dragging his dress off stage behind him. Bob, you’re a mess. Loved it.

And the dress that began as a tornado to symbolize Kansas in “This Land is Your Land” was simple but brilliant. Hysterical.

Camarata’s “I’m a Train” proved what some talented voices working together can create. Wow.

“Louisiana 1927” is a song about a hurricane that hit New Orleans almost a century ago, but could have been written about Katrina. Dramatic and relevant.

Other highlights for me included beautiful renditions by the entire chorale of Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But yes, Sean, the song IS about smoking marijuana. He wanted to make sure the audience knew it wasn’t. That’s right. Good job of protecting the chorale’s pure image.

The finale had the audience on its feet cheering even before the song was over. Personally, I’ve never thought Grace was that amazing. I’m not really sure what the song’s about. And I find bagpipes irritating. That’s me. Everyone else loved it. Before beginning “Amazing Grace,” Baugh asked members of the chorale how many began singing in their church choirs. Most chorale members raised their hands. Their performance of the hymn that I watched with interested detachment was obviously deeply felt and from the heart.

Next up is Home, the Turtle Creek Chorale’s annual Christmas concert on Dec. 17-20. Tickets are available online.