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The Voice of Orpheus

Volume 6, #1      October 2004
Art: Bob Swaim        Editor: Ned Mackey

The Italy Tour
Thirty-two singers and a like number of "roadies" made an eighteen-day tour from Milan to Lecco on Lake Como, east to the Alta Pusteria near the Austrian border, south through Padova/Venice, to Florence, and finally Rome. Tucson's Mariachi Tapatio traveled with us and performed at five of our six concerts. Here is what some of the travelers had to say about the experience:

The trip to Italy was as much about Orpheus as it was about Italy. Italy can well speak for itself. That choir members and their families found the company of the rest of us to be pleasurable as often as they did was one of the highlights of the trip. -Larry Ross, Barbara Katz

I will remember the storms of applause and other signs of appreciation from other choirs and the rest of the audience at the Mahler Hall for the rest of my life. They could not even wait to hear Brent Burmeister finish the accompaniment of "Nessun Dorma," though clearly they were intimately familiar with it. For me, it was our finest hour. -Richard Miller

As I left the stage after our performance at the Mahler Hall that wonderful morning in the Alta Pusteria, I wanted very much to find a quiet spot to take in what had just happened, and to collect myself. Cowboys aren't supposed to cry, you know. -Jeff Howard

We sang, we laughed, we learned, we had a great time. -Ric Craig

I came, I saw, the choir conquered, and I got stuck in an elevator. -David Kaiser

(Editor's note: David and five other Orpheans got to know each other a lot better in Rome, spending a breathless quarter-hour wedged into an elevator in the hotel Leonardo Da Vinci.)

Yodeling in the Alps! That wonderful night in the Campo Bisenzio town square. Doesn't get better than that! -Jo Anderson (Our cowgirl yodeler.)

A Partially Objective Assessment
I figure I've sung nearly 150 concerts in my seven years with Orpheus. Until recently I had only an approximate idea of how we sound. My uncertainty results from my tall man's position in the back row, my own very average voice, and my habitual pessimism. My wife often tells me she thinks we have sung well, even claiming goose bumps from time to time, but I question her judgment. She loves me, tells me I am handsome.

I first heard Orpheus perform in front of a packed house at the English-speaking Church of Santa Susana in Rome on Sunday, July 4. We sang 'The Star Spangled Banner" and then retired to the choir stalls to listen to Mariachi Tapatio, our traveling companions, perform "La Misa Panamericana" during the Mass. Somewhere around the middle of the service I began to feel a little wobbly. Five minutes later some of my fellows were helping me through the audience across a marble floor that had become a pitching deck. After a lie-down in the sacristy and some tending by very nice people, I recovered sufficiently to stand in the doorway and watch Orpheus assemble for the post-service concert. Having convinced myself not to walk back up the aisle to join the singing, I leaned against a wall and joined the audience.

The music was spectacular! There were my choir mates, so earnest, so focused, so perfectly prepared, singing with that grand sonority and vitality that a male choir can produce. My emotions were a jumble of joy and rage. And pride, going, for once, after a fall. -N.M.

A Totally Objective Assessment
From the Op-Ed page of the Marin Independent Journal, July, 24:

"While traveling in Italy on the holiday, my husband sought a church to attend Sunday Mass. We found Santa Susana, an English speaking parish close to the American Embassy.

"To our pleasant surprise there was a Mariachi band and a men's choir, 30 voices strong, from Tucson, Arizona. Their music was lovely and inspiring.

"At the end of the Mass, the priest announced that because it was our national holiday, July 4, we would all sing 'America the Beautiful.'- 'America, America, God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.'

"At this point the tears started flowing.

"Afterwards, I turned to the people behind me and said, This is a shot in the arm for all of us. Although we have problems at home, we must remember what a marvelous country we live in. For the most part, we live together, accepting our differences and getting along.' It was especially true sitting in this magnificent church, 7,500 miles from home. "Truly, God has shed his grace on us."
Norma Asiano
Mill Valley

Tenor Bob Swaim received this page from a friend. We don't know Norma, but we're glad she was in the audience on Independence Day at Santa Susana.

A "Strange" Night
The choir from the town of Campo Bisenzio, just outside Florence, threw us a swell party after the joint concert in their main piazza. (The concert itself was memorable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the town's brass band oompahing by across the street right in the middle of the only quiet number we sang.) The post-concert feast was bountiful, the wine flowed freely, and two of the local tenors had their heads handed to them by our own Todd Strange. The wannabes started a rendition of "Che Gelida Manina" from La Boheme. Todd jumped into the fray, and by halfway around the first turn the two local boys knew they were whipped. They hung on doggedly down the back stretch, but Todd breasted the tape alone, his rivals gasping for breath and needing another glass of wine. The cheers came from Italians and Americans alike. We know that Todd will be hearing more of the same as his career blossoms. Perhaps he'll remember us in his résumé.

We lost some good men in addition to Todd, who is heading to bigger stages. Doug Russell, for example, got as far away from us as Baghdad. So it was good to find several new voices at the first rehearsal. We could use some more; the only thing that sounds better than a big men's choir is a bigger one.

Pass a simple audition, pay your $75 dues, your $50 refundable deposit for a white dinner jacket, blue knit shirt, and Russian peasant shirt and sash. Press your tux, shine your shoes, and be ready when you're ready. Rehearsals at 7:00 Wednesday evenings at the Tucson Boys Chorus building. Saturday mornings at Northminster Presbyterian too, if you can make them.

Call Grayson Hirst, 621-1649 to make arrangements. Find us on the web at sonsoforpheus.org for more information.

Profiling Richard Miller
Richard would be a gem in any organization: a diamond, cut by an appreciation for hard work during his early years on upstate New York farms, and polished by 33 years working in a private school. Richard received a B.A. in history from the University of Rochester in 1963 and an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in 1967. Seeking a ministry with young people, Richard decided to go where the kids were rather than waiting for them to come to him. That's how he began a career at the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, where he coordinated the chapel program, taught history, coached cross country and track, and eventually worked with an annual budget of over $13 million as assistant headmaster.

Richard Miller

Richard came to Tucson with his wife Linda, also a singer (he fell in love with her voice first), in 2000 after discovering Arizona at the time of their son's graduation from Prescott College. The couple are proud parents of a daughter as well.

Some people are doomed to make the world a better place; Richard is one of these, so his retirement is a busy one. He is the president of his homeowners association; Program Chair, St. Philips Academics; Member, United Way Supporting Seniors Impact Council; and he has served as a fundraiser and consultant to several councils and boards since moving to Tucson. Richard joined Orpheus in 2000. He is our grant writer and a gentle but persistent critic of our diction and musicality.

Richard contributed the following for this profile: "I used to be a runner, but my knees don't let me do that anymore. Generally I walk an hour a day, listening to books on tape (mostly history and other nonfiction), hit the weights three or four times per week, and when the weather is cooler, enjoy hiking. I also try to stay abreast of local, national, and international news. In other words, when I'm not doing nonprofit work or reading, I'm working out, although to look at my body, one might not draw such a conclusion." It is true that Richard's image could appear in the dictionary alongside the word slender. So, he perfectly depicts Pascal's description of man: a reed, but "a thinking reed." And a giving one.

Orpheus Wins Matching Grants
A nonprofit organization without a good grant writer is a windmill without blades. Richard's annual report to the Sons of Orpheus Board of Directors is proof that our windmill is turning smoothly and greening the fields:

Recently, we received general operating support matching grants of $4500 from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and $1965 from the Tucson Pima Arts Council. In addition, Tucson Pima Arts Council awarded Orpheus two project grants of $1200 each, one to help support our Holiday Concert Series and the other our Spring Concert Series.

In making its award, the Arts Commission noted that '...grants are awarded through a competitive process.' Thus the grant signifies that '...Orpheus provides programs of high artistic quality, serves the needs of the community, and demonstrates administrative ability, as well as meeting other criteria.' In their more specific comments, both funders highlighted special strengths of our organization: collaboration with other performing groups, holding benefit concerts for charitable organizations, performing for large numbers of people, board diversity, and the hundreds of volunteer hours donated by the members and friends of Orpheus.

We are deeply grateful for the public funds that help support the Sons of Orpheus. The Arts Commission receives funding from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts, while the Tucson Pima Arts Council receives funding from both the City of Tucson and Pima County. These matching funds to worthy arts organizations are designed to spur individuals and corporations to make private donations.

Such support for the Sons of Orpheus sustains us and enhances our ability to serve the people of our community with quality programs.

Ron Galasinski on the BDAA Conference
Do you know the meaning of the following words: babushka, rubashka, bayan, domra, guslyi, and balalaika? They are names of traditional Russian folk instruments or costumes used at the 26th annual convention of the Balalaika and Domra Association of America, held this summer in Tucson.

The conference took place at the University Marriot Hotel from 26 through 31 July, culminating in a fantastic and jubilant concert at the U of A School of Music's Crowder Hall. The performance featured several outstanding musicians from Russia and Ukraine. Orpheus was there too, along with our friends from the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra, hosts and sponsors of the event.

Early in the week, Orpheus provided entertainment after master workshops by singing several cowboy songs and two numbers from our Russian repertoire. Grayson Hirst, our founder/director, charmed the conferees that evening with his solos in our rendition of "Ya Fstryetyl Vas" (I Met You).

For our portion of the program on the night of the big concert, Grayson performed "At the Balalaika," the Nelson Eddy song from the 1939 MGM film Balalaika; and Orpheus, joined by several conferees whom Grayson had trained in his master classes, invigorated the audience with "Polushko Polye" (Meadow Lands) and Gyimn Vyelyikomu Gorodu" (Hymn to a Great City). The choir was backed by the 75-member BDAA orchestra. Our encore, Dale Evans' "Happy Trails," was also accompanied by Russian instruments, a rendition no doubt fit for the Guinness Book of Records.

(Editor's note: Ron is our resident Russian scholar. We rely on him every year to perfect our diction prior to our performances with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra and the Kalinka Dancers.)

Opera Choruses Reprised
One of the opera choruses we'll sing this season is the "Choeur des Soldats" from Gounod's Faust, a retelling of an episode from Goethe's Faust- the story of Faust and Marguerite. (Goethe called her Gretchen, a name that doesn't work in French.) We last performed this chorus in the 1999-2000 season. Following is an excerpt from the April newsletter of that year.

The aging Faust gives Mephistopheles his immortal soul in exchange for youth. Faust then meets Marguerite, the young sister of a soldier named Valentin who has gone off to war. Feeling the need to flaunt his restored powers, Faust seduces her with the help of some Mephistophelian trickery.

"Choeur des Soldats" begins as Valentin and his band of soldiers return from battle singing "Deposons les armes, nos meres en larme, nos meres et nos soeurs ne nous attendront plus." (Let's put down our arms. Our mothers in tears, our mothers and our sisters will have to wait for us no more.)

Valentin does not know that his sister, abandoned and pregnant with Faust's child has been in tears too. Valentin discovers the truth and challenges Faust to a dual. Valentin is killed. His death doubles the guilt Faust has begun to suffer for defiling Marguerite. Later, he attempts to rescue her from prison; she has gone mad and dies at his feet.

But forget all the tragic stuff. "Choeur des Soldats" is a rollicking good tune, one of the best-known opera choruses. "Gloire immortelle de nos aieux, sois nous fidele mourons comme eux." (Immortal glory of our forefathers, do not desert us. Let us die as they did!) Brave words when you are marching through your hometown streets, safely returned and eying all those girls waving from the balconies.

We'll also sing the famous processional chorus from Act II of Wagner's Tannhäuser, "The Entrance of the Guests into the Wartburg." We performed this in the 1998-99 season, but this time around, baritone Vern Williamsen has arranged the 96-measure orchestral introduction for four-hand piano. Brent Burmeister and two other hands will pound it out as the choir enters from the back of the hall. More drama is what we're after. You'll be on the edge of your seats wondering if we'll get onto the risers in time to start the singing.

Board Member Ivor Lichterman
A visit to Ivor's office at Congregation Anshei Israel tells you you are in the presence of a busy man, a man of many talents. If the walls crammed with audio tapes, CDs, and manilla folders don't convince you, or his piled desk, check out his bio: cantor, concert artist, speaker, calligrapher, mohel. Then you discover his passion: the architecture of synagogues around the world. He has photographed 350 of them and has models of several of the most famous ones. In a picture frame is a beautiful etching of the synagogue in Florence. Ivor himself was the engraver. Here and there in the few available spaces are model cars from his extensive collection.

For the past thirteen years Ivor has studied once a week with Grayson Hirst in Grayson's voice studio at the University of Arizona. Because Ivor has been a member of our board of directors for only two years, we know Grayson had been twisting his arm for eleven before landing him.

It was an especially good catch because Ivor now sings with us! If you attended a concert last spring, you were surprised to see three men walk off the risers and leave the stage just before we sang "Nessun Dorma." Ivor, Jim Hogan, and Todd Strange sang the part of the heralds from the wings.

Ivor is also heralding great years ahead for Orpheus. One of his goals is to increase the size of the choir to 100 good voices. I hope he'll also be figuring how to pay for the risers required to support such a mob. Our thanks and best wishes to him.

The Casa de los Niños Raffle
Through the generosity of Pioneer North America, Casa advertised their new thrift shop (3000 W. Valencia, corner of Valencia and Cardinal) in our Spring Concert program.

We thought you or your company might like to know about the October 17th drawing at the SAHBA home show. Raffle tickets are $2, or 3 for $5, 7 for $10, 15 for $20, 40 for $50, or 100 for $100. The prize is a 1947 Chevrolet StyleMaster business coup. You needn't be there win, but if you are, you get an extra $500. Raffle tickets presented at the door reduce admission by a dollar. All profits benefit Casa de los Niños. Call Don Haskell at the Casa, 624-5600.

From the Director
At this time of year it is always our great pleasure to welcome new members to our ranks. We thank them for their interest in our choir. We thank them for their vote of confidence, and we extend to them our warmest welcome.

Orpheus is a torchbearer for a great men's choral tradition. We champion male choral singing and seek to foster the magnificent traditions of our choral art. Our mission is to promote and sustain the art of the public performance of great choral music. To that end, we sing an extensive, diverse and adventurous repertoire.

From its inception in 1991, Orpheus embarked on a program aimed at providing music of the highest quality, programs selected to reveal the magnificent palette of the male voice choir timbre, music which can lift people's hearts and spirits. We want to be recognized for stylistic versatility and heartfelt singing.

Orpheus is an instrument of constant self-renewal. In order for us to continue down the path we have chosen, our choir will be upheld by dedicated singers. As long as today's Orpheans continue to display the enthusiasm for choral singing that their forefathers once did, as long as Orpheus endeavors to live up to our stewardship obligation to the next generation, I feel confident that the future of our choir will be assured.

So now the break is over and the brakes are off! We begin laying the groundwork for an exciting new season. I look forward to sharing the tremendous enjoyment of singing together with you. Welcome to a glorious new season. -G.H.

For Your Refrigerator Door

9/19, Tucson Pops Orchestra, Music Under the Stars, DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center, Reid Park, 7:00 p.m.

10/7, Corps Artillery Reunion Alliance, Radisson Tucson City Center Hotel.

10/20, Military Officers Association of America, Viscount Suite Hotel.

11/7, Benefit concert for the Greater Green Valley Community Foundation, Sahuarita High School auditorium, 2:00 p.m. and 4 p.m.

11/11, Veteran's Day Commemoration Concert, Veterans Hospital, 2:00 p.m.

12/7, 8, 9, 8th Annual "Christmas at San Xavier" concert in collaboration with the Tucson Boys Chorus at Mission San Xavier del Bac, 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.

12/12, Cantor's Hanukkah Concert, 75th Anniversary of Congregation Anshei Israel, 5550 E. 5th. Street, 7:00 p.m. Cantor Ivor Lichterman welcomes one and all to this special celebration.

12/14, 7th Annual Holiday Benefit Con­cert for Tucson Community Food Bank, in conjunction with students of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, Berger Center for the Perform­ing Arts, 7:00 p.m.

12/16, Arizona Opera League luncheon, Tucson Country Club.

12/19, Christmas/Holiday Concert in collaboration with Foothills Women's Chorus, Eller Dance Theater, U of A, 3:00 p.m.

Orpheus at Mahler Hall

Orpheus at Mahler Hall in Dobiacco.
photo by Gary Smyth

Read the
April 2004 Newsletter
February 2004 Newsletter
October 2003 Newsletter
May 2003 Newsletter
February 2003 Newsletter
September 2002 Newsletter

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