Two Weeks in December
We did our bit to bring holiday cheer to the community, singing for about 4800 people in twelve concerts and developing cast-iron vocal folds in the process. The San Xavier concerts sold out all six performances this year, putting a tidy sum into the jeans of the Patronato Mission San Xavier, the organization that funds the ongoing reconstruction and refurbishment of the "White Dove of the Desert." The gorgeous old girl gleamed in the candlelight and sang along with the Tucson Boys Chorus, various soloists, and us. (What else could explain the marvelous acoustic?) She may have been surprised to hear the exotic strains of a Nigerian carol sung in Yoruba and accompanied by djembes, but she listened attentively and approved.
Music is maddeningly insidious. It wriggles its way into your thoughts throughout the day until you discover that you have been driving your wife crazy whistling a tune over and over (harmony line only). So you get to your keyboard and pound something else into your head to give her a little variety. Now that Orpheus has put away the holiday music and resumed work for the second half of the season, Verdi's "Coro di Schiavi Ebrei" (''Va pensiero") from Act III of Nabuco; Richard Strauss's "Traumlicht"; "'Steuerman! Lass die Wacht," from Wagner's Der Fliegende Höllander; and "Tiritomba," a traditional Neapolitan song are currently taking their turns drilling into the brain.
Music and Tyranny
Once upon a time a singer who hated Wagner because Hitler had revered him, argued against the inclusion of a Wagnerian chorus in his choir's repertoire. The director's explanation that Wagner had died six years before Hitler's birth was insufficient, and the singer angrily proposed that the men grow little mustaches and goose step onto the stage.
The singer might more reasonably have objected to Richard Strauss, Hitler's contemporary. In the 1930s Strauss sought the easy way (or the only way, depending on the perspective) and went along with what the Nazis had in mind for him. For a time he was head of the State Music Bureau, and once he obligingly conducted at Bayreuth because Toscanini had withdrawn. But he protected his Jewish daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as well as Stephan Zweig, his Jewish librettist. During the war years, when he lived mainly in Vienna, he and the Nazi authorities barely tolerated each other.
Strauss's Der Rosencavalier, Salome, his other operas, tone poems, and hundreds of songs may not live as long as the unsavory memory of the Nazis; but "Traumlicht" alone, the Strauss song we'll perform for you in the spring, would support his exoneration, even had he sung Hitler to sleep with it.
As fascism was raising its ugly head in Italy, Pietro Mascagni also chose the easy way. In order to rehabilitate himself from his earlier communist sympathies, he made a career-saving formal statement in praise of Mussolini. By the time Il Duce fell heels over head for the Milanese in the Piazza Loreto, the disillusioned Mascagni was eighty-one years old and politically incorrect again. He died three months later, snubbed by Italy's provisional government, but adored by the 200,000 people who lined the streets to watch his cortege pass. A Roman policemen's band played the Intermezzo from his famous Cavelleria Rusticana as the coffin was carried in for the requiem mass.
Orpheus sings an "Ave Maria" written for the Intermezzo. As yet no one has suggested we sing it with a Mussolini scowl.
Italian Concert Tour
Plans are nearly complete for the choir to travel to Italy to appear in four venues this summer. The first is in Lecco on Lake Como where we'll share the stage with two local choirs. From there we'll head northeast to the Austrian border to participate in the Alta Pusteria International Choir Festival. We'll be part of another festival at the Piazza di Santo Spirito in Florence for our third concert, and end the tour in Rome with an appearance at the Rome Festival. Seventeen days after leaving Tucson, we'll return to it, tired but happy to have sung our best and to have heard the best from around the world.
We Suffer a Big Loss
If Grayson Hirst is the choir's head, Iván Berger is its heart. He moved to Phoenix after our final Christmas concert, so we'll need a whole gang of men to replace him. When his tail lights faded down I-10, we lost our bass section leader, a percussionist, the producer of the programs for our spring concerts, one of the two organizers of our 2004 Italian concert tour, the biggest ham in the choir, and an all-around good guy. To add salt to the wound, he took our librarian with him. (His wife Patricia.) Thank heaven he'll be able to return for Saturday morning rehearsals to get ready for the Russian and spring concerts and Italy.
Singers come and go, but Iván's departure makes us even happier that we snagged a crop of capable new men. Baritones: Rick Sack, and Pete DiCurti. Basses: Jeffrey Handt, Ric Craig, and Kurtis Williams. Second tenors: Gordon Geiger, Jim Moore, Nate Miller, and Ross Ribblett. First tenors: Alan Groben, Tom McCartney and Jim Tomlinson. Also, baritone David Harrington returns after surgery that has put him back on the road to good health.
Orpheus in Art
Jean Baptiste Corot's "Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld," (see www.artchive.com/artchive/C/corot/orpheus.jpg.html) depicts Orpheus tugging his serpent-stung bride by the hand and pointing the way with his lyre. Nothing in her face or posture suggests she is happy to go, even though Orpheus went through hell to get her back. (Some say she had fallen in love with Hades as Persephone had before her.) As the story goes, Orpheus was duped by the underworld god's tricky requirement that he not look back at Eurydice until the journey was complete. At the very entrance to the upper air, Orpheus forgot himself and turned to behold her. She disappeared like smoke. Alexander Pope tells the tale in his "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day:But soon, too soon the lover turns his eyes;
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies
How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move?
No crime was thine, if 't is no crime to love.Now under hanging mountains,See, wild as the winds o'er the desert he flies;
Beside the falls of fountains,
Or where Hebrus wanders,
Rolling in meanders,All alone,Now with furies surrounded,
He makes his moan,
And calls her ghost,
Forever, ever, ever lost!
He trembles, he glows
Amidst Rhodope's snows.
Hark! Haemus resounds with the Bacchanals' cries;
Ah, see, he dies!Yet even in death Eurydice he sung,
Eurydice still trembled on his tongue:
Eurydice the woods
Eurydice the floods
Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung.
Although Orpheus made another try to rescue his wife, he was stalled at the brink despite heroic efforts. After that he renounced the company of women—a decision that cost him his life.
Now find Gustave Moreau's "Orpheus" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpheus. At first glance we see a young man in the arms of a sad and rather wet looking woman. What is this? Is he asleep? He looks a little pale. His head languishes on his lyre. By Jove! The rest of him is gone! And Ovid tells us where.
As it happened, Orpheus' celibate wandering led him into the path of a group of Thracian maidens who were returning from the Feast of Dionysus where they had celebrated a little too heartily. Angered when Orpheus rejected their advances, they started chucking stones at him. When the missiles came within the sound of his lyre, they fell harmlessly to the ground. But the girls had a trick up their sleeves, or under their collars. They screamed so shrilly they drowned out the music, and the missiles found their mark. The maidens, not satisfied with mere murder, cut off Orpheus' head, placed it on his lyre, and set it adrift to be found downstream by one of the muses. Wait a minute! Wasn't Orpheus' mother Calliope the muse of epic poetry? Holy Zeus! Moreau may have depicted Calliope herself gazing at her slaughtered son, our titular ancestor.
For the choir's banner Willie Valenzuela painted a picture of Orpheus charming the landscape with his song. That's the way we prefer to think of him.
Balalaikas in Your Future
Our annual concerts with our friends the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra are set for February 21 at 7:00 p.m. and 22 at 2:00 p.m. The Kalinka Russian Dancers will perform as usual, filling the stage at Pima College's Proscenium Theater, 2200 W. Anklam, with traditional costumes and lively steps.
The featured soloist this year is bandura virtuoso Ota Herasymenko Olynyk who will step into the spotlight fresh off the boat from Kiev, if you don't count the fact that she now lives in Sacramento. The bandura is a beautiful marriage of harp and lute that looks like it could double as a pasta maker or a paper shredder. The sound is heavenly!
One of the numbers Orpheus will sing with the orchestra is "Hymn to a Great City." It was arranged for us by our own Mike Fraser. Mike's introduction to the arrangement reads, "'in 1949, Russian composer Reinhold Gliére (1875-1956) wrote music for a ballet entitled The Bronze Horseman. The ballet follows a story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). In the story, the bronze horseman is both the living Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) and the famous equestrian statue that to this day watches over St. Petersburg, the city of his creation. "Hymn to a Great City" is the music from the ballet's finale.
"In 2002 the city council of St. Petersburg held a contest to provide appropriate words for "Hymn to a Great City." The winner was Oleg Chuprov, a local poet.
"The music is adapted from Gliére's original manuscript score and a piano reduction. Ron Galasinski of Sons of Orpheus prepared the transliteration of the Russian Cyrillic text."
We'll sing it for you with as much pride and passion as Petrogradskis feel for their home town.
Tickets are $15; $10 for students. You can buy them at The Folk Shop and Hear's Music, or call the Proscenium Theater box office at 206-6986. They'll also be available at the door, but that's a risky proposition even if you show up during the sound check.
In this edition of the Voice of Orpheus you find a small envelope. Preferring to sing for our supper (and write grants and hold rummage sales and pay dues), we don't ask often for donations. The last time was in 2002 when we needed to raise funds for a portable instrument we could take to events where no piano was available. Our readership came through generously, and we have been happy with the purchase of a Kurzweil electric keyboard.
Now we come again, hat in hand, to ask you to help us establish travel scholarships for the Italy concert tour. In spite of the fact that our experienced travel planners have scoured all sources for the best rates on air fares, hotels, and land transportation, a few men who would like to make the trip will not be able to in this year of high travel costs and the dollar's precipitous fall against the Euro.
Please remember that we take Tucson with us wherever we sing. We want to present our city with the strongest group we can muster. We are a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization, so your gift is tax deductible. If you would like to specify that your gift be used to support a scholarship for the Italy tour, please indicate so on your check. If the tour fails to go, our treasurer, Al Paulus, will return your check. Our deadline is March 1. All contributions must be in by February 21 so we can add them to our other scholarship funds and apportion them to the men who have made requests for aid.
Profiling Al Paulus
More about our treasurer: Al is a Chicago native, born of German immigrant parents. After high school Al continued his education at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
Like many Knox men, Al discovered that the dating scene was exceptionally lucrative at Monmouth College a few miles down the road. Monmouth had no ROTC program so the women outnumbered the men about five to one. His strategy worked perfectly, and Barbara Behringer, a beautiful farmer's daughter (the daughter, not the farmer), transferred to Knox in her junior year. Barbara had grown up in Altona, Illinois where her early education took place in a one-room school house. Her dog accompanied her and received a certificate of perfect attendance. One assumes the city lights got in Barb's eyes when she met Al.
At Knox Al majored in economics and business administration, sang in the college choir, and got himself a Phi Beta Kappa key and lieutenant's bars. He and his new bride were posted to Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Indiana where he was the commanding officer of a finance unit that also trained as an "on call" combat force. The call came for Al to lead his men against a rebel stronghold in the Dominican Republic. He was happy to have seven battle-hardened sergeants under his command because he wasn't too sure how his junior accountants might react in an incalculable situation. The rebels may have heard about the coming of the Finance Commandos because they fled the scene before the shooting started. The mission was scrubbed, and Al returned to the staid world of addition and subtraction. Multiplication too if you consider fatherhood.
His tour of duty complete, Al took his family back to Chicago—the place he had prepared himself to avoid. But a job is a job, a great city a great city, and the Cubs the Cubs. He worked by day and went to school by night to earn the privilege to write CPA after his name. For thirty-seven years he and Barb made their home in the "city of big shoulders," or in nearby Mount Prospect, where they raised their three children.
One characteristic of the assignments Al undertook during his career was travel. Lots of it. Most years he was in other cities for months on end. So much time away from home can cause strains in a marriage, and Al had to learn whose bailiwick he was entering when he got off the plane at O'Hare. He discovered that a traveling man should not come in off the road asking for a home-cooked meal, or take it upon himself to reorganize the kitchen cupboards.
Al and Barb said goodbye to Chicago winters and moved to Tucson in 1995. They enjoy their four grandkids, their season tickets to the Arizona Theater Company, Arizona men's basketball, and the big road shows that come into Centennial Hall. Al, a bass, has been singing with Orpheus for eight years, serving as our treasurer for most of that time. He escaped the task briefly but returned when the need arose. We can't thank him enough for taking up the quill and the green eyeshade once again.
If you find yourself struggling through the days haunted by the wish that you were a librarian for a men's choir, now is the chance to rid yourself of that shadow. The job calls for an hour on Wednesday evenings at the Tucson Boys' Chorus building and a half hour on Saturday mornings at Northminster Presbyterian Church. Organizational skill is the main requirement. A sunny disposition and infinite patience would be nice.
"Why couldn't a singer do this?" you might ask. There is a reason. Many of us are intelligent enough, but a singer would have to miss some rehearsal time doing the job that was meant for you. We've tried it that way. It doesn't work. You would be contacted ahead of time whenever you were not needed, but Patricia Berger says that won't happen often. The job begins next August and runs through April. Interested? Please contact Grayson Hirst at his U of A studio, 621-1649.
Board President Larry Ross
Dr. Ross is a retired NY cardiologist who lives seven months a year in Tucson and five in Manhattan—an arrangement that qualifies him as something more than a snowbird and something less than a desert rat. We're glad to have him wherever he fits on the taxonomic chart.
A happy coincidence brought Larry into our sphere. He was singing with the University of Arizona Community Chorus during a performance in which our director was a soloist. Larry remembered that he had also shared the stage with Grayson back in Grayson's glory days on the New York opera stage. Bingo! Larry joined the board a year ago and was recently elected president.
Larry not only leads the organization, he will begin singing with us. He is that most valuable commodity in every men's choir, a first tenor who reads music like a demon and has extensive experience in choral music. Lead on, Larry!
We hope you enjoy finding this newsletter in your mailbox three or four times a year, but if it's something you always toss away unopened (in which case you won't be reading this), or if you'd rather read it on our website and save us two bits, e-mail Hmackeyjr@aol.com. Tell us to drop you from our snail mail list and (1) forget you ever existed, or (2) add you to our e-mail list so we can notify you when the newsletter is ready to read at www.sonsoforpheus.org. (We have a strict anti-spam policy.) You can also drop us an actual line at P.O. Box 31552 Tucson, AZ 85751. We're interested to know your thoughts about where, and how, and what we sing.
New Choral Glossary
In an effort to keep you abreast of the ever-expanding world of musical terminology, we provide the following:
Adagio Frornaggio: To sing in a slow and cheesy manner.
AnDante: A musical composition that is infernally slow.
Angus Dei: To sing with a divine, beefy tone. Perfect for a men's choir.
Anti-phonal: Referring to the prohibition of cell phones in the concert hall.
A Patella: Unaccompanied knee slapping.
Appologgiatura: A, composition you regret singing.
Approximatura: A series of notes not intended by the composer.
Approximento: A musical entrance that is in the vicinity of the correct pitch.
Bar Line: What the basses form post concert.
Kvetchendo: Gradually getting annoyingly louder.
Molto bolto: Head straight to the ending.
Opera buffa: Musical stage production by nudists.
Vesuvioso: A gradual buildup to a fiery conclusion.
ZZZfortzando -- Singing REALLY loud in order to wake up the audience.
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