The Voice of Orpheus

Volume 4, #1 ­ ­ ­ ­ September 2002
Art: Bob Swaim ­ ­ ­ ­ Editor: Ned Mackey

Tour of the British Isles
The choir left Tucson on July 3 at the beginning of a cold snap. That morning, after a record consecutive number of days with temperatures over 105°, the weatherman promised a mere 101° and the rumor of a cloud. Things were considerably cooler and wetter when we touched down at the Shannon airport.

We sang on six occasions in five venues in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, including the Llangollen Eisteddfod, an international music festival and competition.

Our first concert was in Ireland, July 7. The least self-serving way to report the event is to quote a message posted on the Irish web site "Choralireland." The author is a singer named Lyn, a member of a wonderful Irish choir with whom we sang at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in downtown Dublin:

"Hmmm--what is considered to be the standard repertoire for choirs? Last night the choir I sing with, "Voces Amicabiles," played host to the Sons of Orpheus male choir from Tucson, Arizona in the Pro Cathedral. The Orpheans covered a very wide range of repertoire from Russian, Czech, Welsh, folk music, operatic choruses, American arrangements of Irish music, and a selection of cowboy songs from "Rawhide" to "Happy Trails."

"They even had their own cowgirl complete with sparkly ten gallon hat. I am sure it was the first time the sound of cow clappers and yodeling ever echoed around the Pro."

"Our choir did the Haydn 'Little Organ Mass' and some other sacred numbers for the 6:30 mass before the concert and performed three spirituals midway through the Sons' act. It was one of the most exhilarating nights of singing and listening I've ever had, and the audience looked like they were enjoying it too. I figure the music on offer last night was about as varied and distinctive and occasionally nonstandard as it comes!"

We are glad this choir liked us, because we will never forget them, or the venue of St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, a nineteenth century beauty with an acoustic singers will kill for. Nothing like stone floors, a vaulted ceiling, and stained glass windows to give cowboy music an exotic panache.

[Trailer at Cathedral]

July 10 saw us at our next venue at Rothes Halls, a beautiful community center in East Fife near Edinburgh where we sang a fund raiser for Save the Children with the East Fife Male Voice Choir. The two choirs alternated sections of the program until we stood together to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Scotland the Brave," to the delight of a large and responsive audience. Promoters of the event reported raising £4103 or about $6359, so the audience was responsive in that way too.

From there it was straight south to the Eisteddfod. We sang in the men's competition in the afternoon of July 13, the last day of the festival. If we won we would sing three "serious" pieces in the final competition to select "The Choir of the World" from the winners of the five choral categories: youth, chamber, female, mixed, and male choirs.

But even if we didn't win, the publicity material we had submitted to the selection committee landed us a spot on the program to kick off the festival's final event. The Eisteddfod wanted variety, so our Wild West appeal made a nice fit with a South African choir that sang Xhosa songs, a Swedish church choir, a Bulgarian academic choir, and a Korean dance company.

Alas, but deservedly, the Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir from Sheffield, England won the men's competition; so that evening we donned our cowboy hats and strode onto the stage to warm up the huge crowd assembled for the choral finals. It was one of those times you know you are hitting a homer. You can sense that the choir is singing its best, and that the crowd is loving it.

After the last "'til we meet again," we waved our hats rodeo-style and shouted our thanks. From the wings we heard the master of ceremonies congratulate us and tell the audience in a humorous vein that we had broken several rules. The week-long festival is tightly controlled, very formal, but nobody told us that we were not supposed to wave our hats and interact with the audience, or that our founder/director Grayson Hirst was not supposed to walk to a microphone to chat with them between numbers.

Upon reentering the backstage area where the winning choirs had been watching us on big- screen TV's as they gathered in preparation for the final battle, we got another ovation. Some of the competitors responded with the "Yips" and "Yahoos" they had heard from us. A few even offered to buy our hats!

People enjoyed us not only because we sang well but because our approach was so informal on this pressurized day. Much of the competition music had been esoteric and terrifically technical, so our performance kind of "Yanked" the cork out of the bottle with twelve minutes of "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," "The 3:10 to Yuma," "Rawhide," and "Happy Trails."

Two days later we sang with the marvelous Wessex Male Voice Choir in Swindon's Holyrood Roman Catholic Church. Holyrood is not cathedral sized, but its vaulted wooden ceiling provided a lovely acoustic. Several singers from the Wessex choir had journeyed to Llangollen with their director to watch us compete, so we had established a warm relationship before singing with them. And partying! After the concert they joined us and our roadies to close down our hotel's banquet room, trading songs and toasts into the wee hours.

Our final concert took place in West Ruislip near London. It wasn't quite what we had in mind, but it worked out well enough. Iván Berger, our concert organizer, had wangled us an invitation to sing for the United States Navy at this locale. We even learned the Navy Hymn to honor them. But the navy had apparently jumped ship. The locals were aboard, however, and we enjoyed singing for them. We spent our last four days in London to celebrate an exceptionally rewarding season.

A Nice Coincidence
Tenor Bob Swaim made an interesting discovery too late to do us any good. A week or so after the choir returned to Tucson, Bob was looking through his Eisteddfod program and found that one of the adjudicators of the choral competition was an American named Dr. Conan Castle. In fact Castle delivered the adjudicators' remarks after the men's competition. "Conan Castle," said Bob to himself as he looked at the program. "Wasn't there a guy in my high school named Conan Castle?"

Well, how many Conan Castles can there be? Especially in North Platte, Nebraska. Anyway, Bob went directly to his old "Bulldogs" year book and discovered Conan Castle in its pages. Castle had an impressive swoop of dark hair in those days, but there was no mistaking the eyes in the photograph of the balding gent in the Eisteddfod program. He was Conan Castle indeed, a couple of years ahead of Bob, but they had been on the student council together and had sung in the Boys' Quartet and the Glee Club.

Perhaps Bob did not immediately recognize Castle by name because he had known him by a nickname in the old days. It was too early to have been "The Barbarian." Maybe it was Chip or Skip. Wouldn't Windsor have been a good one?

The Roadies
About fifty people traveled with the choir. Joe Hogan's wife, Maddie, composed a song for our final dinner at the Albert Pub in London. The female travelers sang it for us, sight reading flawlessly. Here's a verse from somewhere near the middle of "The Roadies' Song."

­ ­ ­ ­ "They sang Czech, Swedish, Russian
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ and Welsh for the British.
­ ­ ­ ­ Only neglecting Pig Latin and
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ Yiddish!
­ ­ ­ ­ Plus yodeling, howling, clip clopping
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ noise,
­ ­ ­ ­ Haven't we just got the very best
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ boys?!"

It's a good thing to take your rooting section along with you!

Profiling Iván Berger
Iván has been a member of the choir since 1999. He's our percussionist and our bass section leader. He played an especially important role in the life of the choir last summer by making arrangements for the concerts in Ireland, Scotland, and England, a task that required countless hours of scouting and cajoling by mail and the Internet. When Iván isn't making music, he is the owner of a business called Spanish Communications International.

Iván was born in Medellin, Colombia in 1948, his Hungarian parents having moved there in 1932 to escape growing anti-Semitism. Iván's father had been an actor, operetta singer, and comical dancer in Hungary, and his mother a poet and dramatic actress. So Iván was born for the spot-light, which he admits to hogging from the time he was very young in synagogue, church, and school. He was "muy vivo" (a live wire), the kind of kid who can't sit still, who bangs out rhythms on pots and pans, the kind of kid you know is going to be bugging you for a drum set the moment he discovers such a thing exists.
[Ivan Sketch]

The following is a great "Believe it or Not" story. When Iván was nine he flew from Medellin to Missouri to visit his older brother. As he journeyed he wanted people to think he could speak English, so he spouted phrases memorized from his English primer. "My cat is good," he would announce. "My house is around the corner." A newspaper reporter in Columbia, Missouri did a human interest piece on Iván who had traveled all that long way alone entertaining everyone he could capture. The story had legs and eventually made it into the Chicago Tribune.

Now for the kicker: A certain seven-year-old Chicago girl named Patricia, working on her reading skills, saw the piece in the Tribune and chose it for her daily exercise. Perhaps Iván's picture attracted her, or the single-syllable words in the headline: Boy Wants To See Zoo, Snow on Trip. Whatever the case, many years later, after Iván had moved to the United States and was living in Portland, Oregon (where they have a nice zoo and occasional snow), he showed a new girlfriend his clippings album. (How Iván!) As she perused the one about young Iván's odyssey, she exclaimed, "I know this story!"

He married her, proving the power of the press and the efficacy of a great memory! This joining has turned out to be an especially good thing for Orpheus because Patricia has become our librarian. We love them both.

There is plenty of time to get ready for the Christmas season, so if you fit the following profile, or would be willing to rat on someone who does, please let us know by calling Grayson Hirst at 327-9087:

You are a male. You are a singer (whether or not a music reader). You are willing to undergo a simple, private audition. You can rehearse on Wednesday evenings and most Saturday mornings. You can appear in approximately twenty performances a year. You'd like to make a CD in a sound studio. You'd love to sing everything from opera choruses and sacred music to cowboy songs with a group of good guys who work hard to produce a good sound.

From Vaughn Huff
In the last few years, Sons of Orpheus has grown to be a large and complex organization. It has become necessary to reconsider the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization from top to bottom. Consequently, Orpheus is seeking candidates to join its Board of Directors to give fresh leadership to the organization. If you are a woman or man who would consider volunteering to serve as a member of our Board, please contact Sons of Orpheus to find out more.

September 11, TEP
One way to get to sit on the Sidewinders' bench at Tucson Electric Park is to sing there as we did on September 11. It was quite an evening. Following the Tucson Concert Band on the program, we sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "America the Beautiful," "You're a Grand Old Flag," and "God Bless America." Then we retired to the third-base dugout to watch the U of A Marching Band and the parade of local police, firefighters, and reservists and their equipment.

We returned to center stage to sing "This is My Country." Somehow, during the parade, power to our mikes was cut. The first clue to the problem was that we couldn't hear the keyboard although we could see our accompanist, Brent Burmeister, thumping away in his usual high- energy style. The second clue was that there was absolutely no response from the audience. For a moment we thought the "Missing Man" jet fighter flyover had deafened 12,000 people. (We were told later that our lips had moved in perfect unison.) The problem was righted for our final number, "The Navy Hymn," after which we retired to hear the speeches and participate in the forming of a giant, illuminated

9 11

End-of-the-year Schedule
October 19 finds us singing at the Kino Car Show, a benefit for Casa de los Niños. Then it's on to our Christmas season, beginning with a concert for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and our annual Tucson Food Bank benefit with the students of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind at their auditorium at 1200 West Speedway. The date for that event is December 9. Nonperishable food items get you in. Our concerts at Mission San Xavier with the the Tucson Boys Chorus (six concerts, December 11, 12, 13) will sell out without mention here, but the ASDB concert needs to be better supported. The concert is a guaranteed feel-good. The kids are wonderful!

We'll bid goodbye to singing for 2002 at the Green Valley Community Church December 15, then start out the new year on January 19 at the Tucson Arts Festival downtown.

Grayson's Letter to the Choir
Welcome to a glorious new season! Since our return from this summer's concert tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom, I have taken time to reflect on the breadth of all that we experienced and achieved.

It was an honor for Orpheus to be invited to compete in the Welsh Eisteddfod. (I was told there that only about half of the applicants had been accepted.) And being singled out to perform on the festival's closing concert was, in itself, no small feather in our cap.

While the invitation to compete enhanced our growing reputation for fine singing, preparing ourselves for the whole experience has given Orpheus new growth. We have become musically the strongest we have ever been. The men of Orpheus can take great pride in the high performance standard we maintained throughout the tour. We brought honor to our organization, to the city of Tucson, and to our country.

The year 2002 marks our 12th season of producing and performing choral programs. During those years Orpheus has been a big part of my life. The work we have done together, sharing the joy of music with others, enhancing their lives with the eternal power of music, and helping, in our way to foster friendship and understanding has been for me an immense satisfaction. I thank you for that and for giving your time to attend to the business of our ever more complex organization.

Last season we successfully inaugurated our second decade. Now we embark on the next leg of our journey in music. I look forward to the tremendous enjoyment of performing together.

Click for larger image

Sons of Orpheus gather for an impromptu parking lot adios after the Welsh Eisteddfod

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